State gets low marks in fighting tobacco

Georgia has earned poor grades on a new tobacco prevention report card.

The state received F’s in three categories — tobacco prevention funding, tobacco taxes and smoking cessation coverage — in the annual report from the American Lung Association, released Thursday.

Georgia’s only passing grade was a C for state smoking restrictions, thanks to a 2005 state law that prohibits lighting up in most indoor places.

The state’s four grades were similar to last year’s, the Lung Association said.

“Georgia continues to fall behind in reducing the burden of tobacco use,’’ said June Deen, state director of the American Lung Association. “It’s the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.’’

“Georgia does less to help smokers quit, and takes less advantage of cigarette tax revenues and the benefits of helping smokers quit,’’ Deen added. The state’s tobacco tax is the fourth-lowest in the nation.

If it’s any consolation, lots of states had failing grades.

Georgia was one of 43 that flunked on tobacco prevention funding, and one of 32 that flunked for failing to offer comprehensive quit-smoking treatments to Medicaid recipients and state employees and for failing to invest enough in state quit-smoking lines.

At the bottom of the pack, six states received straight F’s: Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

Only four states — Delaware, Hawaii, Maine and Oklahoma — got passing grades in every category, and no state got straight A’s.

The Lung Association said that for the first year since it released the initial State of Tobacco Control report in 2003, ‘‘no state raised its tobacco tax significantly, and New Hampshire cut its cigarette tax by a dime per pack.’’

Georgia’s failing grade on tobacco taxes stemmed from the Legislature not passing a recommended $1 tax hike per pack of cigarettes. The proposed tax increase will again be an issue before the 2012 General Assembly, but Republican leaders say it’s unlikely to pass.

The Lung Association said the level of Georgia funding for tobacco prevention is less than 5 percent of the CDC’s recommended level.

The state’s F on cessation programs is largely connected to the failure of the state Medicaid program to cover most Medicaid recipients. But beginning this year, state employees, teachers, school employees and retirees in the State Health Benefit Plan will have coverage for prescription tobacco cessation medications for one quit-smoking attempt per year.

Georgia has cut its allocation for anti-smoking programs from $15 million a year in the 1990s to roughly $2 million currently, Deen said. “We know these programs work,’’ she said.

The state’s quit-smoking hotline is funded by $1 million, which is far too little, she said. “What we have is enough money to operate the quit line but not enough money to promote its use.’’ (The tobacco quit line number is 1-877-270-STOP.)

On the positive side for tobacco control, the city of Savannah has passed a comprehensive smoking ban, and a similar measure has drawn some support in DeKalb County, in Macon and now in Augusta, Deen noted.

And Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, has said smoking cessation is one of four target areas to improve Georgia’s health ranking, along with cutting obesity, reducing infant mortality, and raising the state’s immunization rates.

“The new commissioner of the Department of Public Health has indicated that reducing smoking is a priority, which is an encouraging sign,’’ the Lung Association report said. “We are eager to support her efforts.”