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Tobacco Tax Dispute Goes To Florida Supreme Court

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - A North Carolina-based company has gone to the Florida Supreme Court in a dispute about whether it should be able to recoup $1.2 million in tobacco taxes it paid in Florida.

Global Hookah Distributors, Inc. filed a notice this week that is a first step in asking the Supreme Court to take up the case against the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

The move came after a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal in April rejected the company's arguments that it should receive a refund for taxes paid from April 2013 through March 2016.

The company sold tobacco products to Florida businesses such as hookah lounges, bars, restaurants, and cigar stores but did not have a physical presence in the state, according to the appeals-court ruling.

The case centers on a type of tax levied on tobacco products and distributors of the products.

"Global filed a complaint seeking a refund of these taxes, arguing that because it is a North Carolina corporation --- with its only connection to Florida being that it delivers goods here through a common carrier --- it lacked a substantial nexus with the state, which is required under the (U.S. Constitution's) Commerce Clause; and thus, Florida could not legally impose the … taxes on Global's sale of tobacco in the state," the appeals court ruling said.

But the appeals court said the taxes are a "surcharge on tobacco products" and differ from such things as sales taxes.

"The Legislature made clear when passing the act that it was not designed with the main purpose of raising general revenue to support governmental operations; rather, it was designed to protect Floridians' health and ensure that wholesalers introducing the product into Florida bear part of the economic burden of tobacco use," appeals-court Judge M. Kemmerly Thomas wrote.

"Accordingly, we find the … tax is a regulatory measure enacted pursuant to this state's police power to protect the health of its citizens."

The notice filed this week at the Supreme Court, as is common, does not detail the company's arguments.

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

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