Mitchell Cypress: How many years have I served in the capacity as President or Chairman? Sixteen? The cigarette issue is always on the table.
Q: The law known as Protecting Florida’s Health Act included an across-the-board $1 per pack surcharge that the Tribe added to non-Tribal member smoke shop customers back in 2009. What was it that convinced the Tribe to go along willingly with changes that were likely to hurt a Tribal money-making industry?
MC: The State reneged on its prior agreement with the Seminole Tribe by enforcing a surcharge on sales of cigarettes on the reservations. Thus, the tribal enterprise was harmed. We didn’t fight the issue then because we knew it would come back to the table later down the line and it would give both the state and the Tribe time to explore a more equitable solution. It is part of our “Good Neighbor Policy.” We are not looking for a fight with the state.
Q: What is the official position of the Board and the Tribe regarding this situation? What would you like the legislature and governor to do about it?
MC: Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. feels a solution can be found that would be mutually beneficial to the Tribe and the state. The Board continues to monitor all tobacco developments and remains on the forefront of potential issues.
Q: Is the expansion of the Tribe’s wholesale cigarette business to convenience stores throughout Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and five other states (approved by Council last November) still in the works?
MC: Seminole Wholesale Distributors is currently selling to convenience stores and other operations off the reservation. Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. is constantly evaluating the profitability of this new venture in order to determine any future expansion plans.
Q: Since 1977, when the first Seminole smoke shop opened, smoke shops were unique because of their lower prices. Without this advantage, have sales dropped? Do you foresee the day that smoke shops will no longer bring in profit to the Tribe?
MC: Sales have declined on the reservation since those (2009) changes; however, the decline is not unique to just the Tribe. All cigarette sales across the state of Florida have declined as well. Nevertheless, cigarettes remain a large revenue generator for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. With the decline of cigarette sales, Tribe, Inc. and its staff remain extra-vigilant in exploring other product offerings at all of our locations.
Q: What do you see in your crystal ball? How do you think this issue will all come out – favorably or unfavorably for the Tribe?
MC: Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. continues to expand its portfolio of businesses and believes that by exploring off-reservation sales and further refining other plans already underway, our success will continue.
Mitchell Cypress is President of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc.