A Sin Tax On Oranges?

North Carolina feels a mite picked on these days with all the attacks directed at the tobacco industry. But when Florida recently passed a law allowing the state to sue tobacco companies to recover Medicaid costs for illnesses linked to the weed, it was too much for some Tarheel lawmakers.

A 2 cents-per-fruit tax on oranges and other citrus is wending its way through the North Carolina legislature, passing the state Senate's agriculture committee June 21. (Juice isn't affected.) With the average orange costing 25 cents, the levy isn't likely to make many kick the citrus habit.

The $5 million in projected annual revenue would go to retrain tobacco workers and help tobacco farmers diversify crops. "The attacks on the tobacco industry are not attacks on faceless corporations," says North Carolina State Senator Alexander "Sandy" Sands, the bill's sponsor, who is running for Congress. The state's tobacco industry provides 100,000 jobs, with a $1.8 billion payroll.

Florida ships 3% of its 2 million cartons of citrus fruit to North Carolina. Says Mary Hartney, manager of public affairs for Florida Citrus Mutual, which represents 12,000 growers: "How can you consider a sin tax against something as healthy and nutritious as citrus?"

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