An American Lung Association report released Wednesday gives Georgia failing grades on curbing tobacco use.
Georgia had plenty of company with the bad grades. Most other states also received an “F” on three measures: spending on tobacco prevention and control; smoking cessation programs; and tobacco taxes.
Georgia currently has the third-lowest state cigarette tax in the nation at 37 cents per pack. The average nationally is $1.54, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“A significant increase in the price of cigarettes reduces smoking rates,” said June Deen of the American Lung Association in Georgia. “The increased price is additional incentive for those trying to quit and deters kids who may pick up the habit.”
Raising the tax “can provide a consistent source of new revenue for critical state issues,” she added.
Georgia did earn a “C’’ on one of the four Lung Association measures: “smoke-free air.’’ The report notes that government buildings, day care centers and schools in Georgia prohibit smoking. And smoking is restricted in private workplaces, restaurants, bars and retail stores.
Millions of people affected
Tobacco use –– the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States –– has a devastating impact in Georgia.
It causes more than 11,000 deaths in the state annually, and its direct health care costs amount to more than $3 billion a year.
Roughly 1 in 5 Georgia adults are smokers.
The report notes that the state’s $4 million in spending for tobacco control is just 3.8 percent of the recommended level for Georgia.
And its “investment per smoker’’ of 78 cents for the state tobacco “quitline” is much lower than the average investment per smoker of $3.65, the report says.
Still, more Georgia municipalities are adopting or considering smoke-free ordinances. The state has been successful in promoting tobacco-free school districts. And the University System of Georgia has banned smoking and tobacco products on all its campuses.
Deen also noted that Georgia expanded coverage of smoking cessation medications and individual counseling to Medicaid beneficiaries.
Health advocates, meanwhile, say they believe the tobacco tax increase has more of a chance in the 2015 General Assembly than in years past.
Marsi Thrash of the American Heart Association told GHN that heart disease is the leading cause of death in Georgia. “Nearly half of those deaths are attributed to tobacco use,” she said.
The cigarette tax hike effort is expected to face a battle over the course of the General Assembly session.
State Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), a physician, noted last week that there’s a “huge sensitivity’’ among legislators about any kind of tax increase.