Georgia received mostly failing grades on tobacco control policies in an annual American Lung Association report.
The report from the organization emphasized the issue’s impact amid the pandemic, pointing out that cigarette smokers face a higher risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19.
The “State of Tobacco Control 2021,’’ released Wednesday, calls for Georgia to raise its tax on cigarettes by $1.50 a pack. The state has among the lowest tobacco taxes in the nation.
The topic also has been raised again in the Georgia General Assembly. A longtime advocate of raising the tobacco tax, state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), discussed hiking state revenues in the current legislative session at a conference last week.
Georgia’s tobacco tax, at 37 cents a pack, trails only the levy in Missouri. Increasing the tax on a pack by $1.50 would bring $425 million in annual revenue, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network projected last year.
It also would prevent 30,200 kids under 18 from becoming adults who smoke, help 59,700 adults quit smoking, and save 24,100 lives, according to the projection.
But the tax hike proposal has run into past opposition from Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). And some legislators are opposed to tax increases in general.
The Lung Association Report also recommends equalizing taxes on all other tobacco products to discourage youth from starting smoking and to help smokers quit. This would include e-cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco but are counted as tobacco products because they simulate smoking and contain nicotine, which is derived from tobacco.
Youth vaping and tobacco use overall are largely driven by flavored tobacco products, the report said.
“In Georgia, our adult smoking rate remains at 16 percent, and 17 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes,” June Deen, director of advocacy for the Lung Association, said in a statement.
“The surge in youth vaping combined with the fact that cigarette smoking increases risk of severe illness from COVID-19, make it more important than ever for Georgia to implement the proven measures prevent and reduce tobacco use.”
The report graded states in five areas. Georgia got an “F” grade not only on its tobacco tax, but also on funding for state tobacco prevention; coverage and access to services for quitting tobacco; and ending the sale of flavored tobacco products. The state got a “D” for the strength of its smoke-free workplace laws.
On the COVID issue, the Lung Association noted that cigarette smoking compromises the immune system, is linked to lung inflammation and puts people at greater risk for pulmonary infection. Also, smoking harms the airway lining cells that contain cilia, which are essential defenders against viruses such as COVID-19. Without them working properly, lungs are more vulnerable, the report said.