Cigar companies sue state over anti-smoking amendment


Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 1:46 a.m.

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Nine cigar companies sued the state Tuesday seeking to block a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November that bans smoking in restaurants and most enclosed workplaces.

The Florida companies claim the amendment will cripple their business because it bars them from lighting tobacco inside their factories and warehouses. Burning tobacco and smoking cigars are essential to development and testing, the suit said.

The action was led by the Washington-based Cigar Association of America, a trade group that represents cigar manufacturers, importers and suppliers.

Association president Norman Sharp said the suit was meant not to target the restaurant smoking ban but rather to ensure that cigar companies can conduct their business.

The suit contends the amendment violates the U.S. Constitution because it restricts commerce.

"We're talking about survival," Sharp said. "This is an important industry to the state of Florida, with an overall impact of over $1 billion."

The amendment was overwhelmingly approved by voters Nov. 6. Lawmakers still must implement the law, a task they are set to undertake this spring.

Senate President Jim King said he was disappointed the companies did not approach officials before suing.

"I believe the Legislature would have been open to discussing an exception for tobacco companies who have to test their products by actually smoking them," King said. "Unless their real objective is to have the entire amendment ruled unconstitutional, I think this suit is a little premature."

Sharp said the industry couldn't afford to wait, partly because there are questions over just how much flexibility the amendment gives legislators.

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