Tobacco Load

Legislators are weighing increasing premium cigar taxes by up to 20,000 percent

Tobacco Load

Filed under: News

Last Thursday night, the honchos of more than a dozen local premium cigar makers were gathered in a single smoky room for the first time ever. Nick Perdomo, proprietor of Tabacalera Perdomo, a handmade-cigar shop in Doral, hosted the industry barons, among them the owners of Camacho Cigars, Toraño Cigars, Drew Estate, and Alec Bradley Cigar Company. (The Barzinis, Tattaglias, and Corleones couldn't make it.)

"These are our competitors. All of us compete for the same shelf space on a day-to-day basis, but we came together for one cause," said Selim Hanono, a sales manager for Camacho. "This has never happened."

That "one cause" is a sudden threat to the premium-cigar industry in the United States: a little-known provision of the current incarnation of the SCHIP — State Children's Health Insurance Program — bill, now before the Senate, which would increase the tax on premium cigars by up to 20,000 percent.

That's right, 20,000 percent — from the current nickel to as much as $10 per cigar. And when a four-dollar cigar becomes a $14 cigar, it doesn't take Algebra 1 to figure out cigar makers (and smokers) are in trouble.

Christian Eiroa, third-generation owner of Camacho Cigars, was among the most vocal at the meeting, exhorting the other 30-odd tabacaleros — all of them owners of small, family-run businesses — to join him in a massive letter-writing campaign. They plan to distribute some 200,000 letters to every tobacco retailer in the nation, as well as to Congress.

As two ceiling fans turned just enough to distribute cigar smoke to every corner of the room, the group debated the finer points of the letter. There was a lot of "Lemme tell you" and "Lemme ask you a question" and "Let's stop right there." Within an hour and a half or so, they had decided to create a five-person committee to draft the letter and send it out for approval.

President Bush is expected to veto the bill (not because he supports the cigar industry, but because he thinks public health care is for commies). But that's little comfort to Eiroa. "I'm tired, man. I'm tired of worrying about this every time a new tax comes up." Isaiah Thompson


Don't Cry for Eddie

Filed under: Culture

In any other place, the funeral of a 17-year-old boy would likely be a somber and soul-crushing event — the kind of thing people would find excuses not to attend, just for the sorrow in it.

But last week, in a small funeral parlor on Bird Road, more than 100 people lined up to celebrate the brief but magnificent life of Eddie Charles Pulaski, who had succumbed to cancer after a four-year fight. "It's not a funeral," said his mother, Tammy. "It's a celebration."

Attendants arrived, per Pulaski's wishes, in casual clothing — beach attire and hunting camouflage. Ribald country music played low as the room filled. A collage showed photos of Pulaski living to the fullest: holding an M-16, snorkeling through crystal waters, and grinning as he beaned a friend in the head with a red water balloon. People lined the walls and peered through lobby windows to watch as Lucky Cole opened the ceremony. Dressed in a black cowboy hat, a long studded duster, and a Hawaiian shirt, Cole seized the podium with flare.

"In my 60-plus years," Cole boomed, "I have been in more bar fights than most men will ever see. I have been shot at, stabbed twice, hit from behind with everything from a pool cue to a bat. But not one time did any man ever make me step back and take my hat off to him. Until now." With that, Cole asked the room to stand and salute the boy. Everyone did.

Cole was followed by an endless string of speakers, each of whom conjured the young man's playful verve. When Pulaski's cancer returned after a period of joyous remission, he threw a party. He chose painful therapy over and over again, trying to beat the disease, and refused to be photographed in his infirm state. "You can kiss my ass," he told a reporter hoping to write a sob story about his condition. His graduation from Coral Reef Senior High School in May was met with an eruption of cheering.

Pulaski's family will spread his ashes in the Everglades — joining the remains of his grandfather — and in the ocean. Calvin Godfrey


A Flower in the Weeds

Filed under: Culture

The Stephen Talkhouse, Washington Square, Rose's, I/O, Bullfrog Eatz, Stop Miami, Cornerstone. Notice a trend? Quirky, intimate venues have a fleeting shelf life in this city, especially if they're nestled in the continually up-and-coming, never-quite-blossoming downtown core. The latest establishment under siege is the Wallflower Gallery, which has been supporting local indie artists for a decade. On July 9, Flash — the self-titled "Funk Finder" and engine behind the space — e-mailed an uncharacteristically desperate bulletin describing the gallery's financial crisis.

"We're behind on rent and bills. I was able to cover the electric, so they didn't shut off our power. But we're behind on March rent. Our landlord has been very cool, but I'm trying to be respectful," he says. Asked how much cash the Wallflower needs to stay in bloom, Flash gives a heavy sigh. "Ideally I need $10,000 like, tomorrow, to make sure all our bills are paid."

1
 
2
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...