Cigarette tax hike would help us

As the organization’s director of advocacy, I must again announce the unacceptable grades Georgia received on our national association’s signature report, the State of Tobacco Control. Georgia failed in almost all categories for tobacco policies proven to reduce smoking.

The dismal grades, F’s, are attributed to a failure to increase Georgia’s cigarette tax, adequately fund tobacco use prevention programs, and provide coverage for quit smoking treatments and services for state workers and Medicaid recipients.

Georgia’s smoke-free air law did receive a C; the one passing grade.

Georgia gets about $150 million annually from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

Yet, Georgia funds our state tobacco use prevention program at only 2.8 percent of the CDC’s recommendation.

Georgia is among only four states that do nothing to help their Medicaid population quit smoking and is among the six states that fail to offer smoking cessation benefits for state employees. Helping smokers quit will save lives and money.

We have the fifth-lowest cigarette tax in the country. Increasing the price of cigarettes deters kids from starting to smoke and adds incentive to smokers wishing to quit.

With more than 10,000 Georgians’ deaths attributed to smoking each year, these grades confirm that our state should do more to curb tobacco addiction and the resulting smoking-caused disease, death and health care costs.

Our legislators can demonstrate their commitment to Georgia residents by passing a $1 increase to the state’s cigarette excise tax. At 37 cents, Georgia’s tax per pack is well under the average state tax of $1.34 per pack.

Increasing this tax provides numerous wins: It generates more revenue for the state; it saves lives by reducing smoking; and it is a choice that is popular with the public, as polling has shown that 75 percent of Georgians were supportive of increasing the cigarette tax by $1.

Increasing the tax by $1 is a most efficient way to reduce smoking among youth and adults. A 10 percent increase in the cost of a pack of cigarettes can decrease cigarette consumption by 7 percent in youth and 4 percent in adults.

Just to our south, Florida has begun to see the positive effects an additional dollar can make. With the passage of their cigarette tax in 2009, cigarette sales have dropped throughout the state and additional revenue has been created.

The state and federal tax burden from smoking-caused government expenditures in Georgia is about $550 per household — whether or not a member of your family is a smoker. The potential $360 million generated by increasing the cigarette tax by $1 would go a long way toward alleviating some of those costs. Georgia should not be left out of this potential revenue generator.

It is time we find the best way to save lives and generate much-needed revenue for our state. Contact your legislators today and ask for their support in increasing the cigarette tax for Georgia.

June Deen is director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Georgia and South Carolina.

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