Poll: Most Georgians support tobacco tax increase to boost state budget

FILE PHOTO.
FILE PHOTO.

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Nearly three-quarters of Georgia voters said they support increasing the state tax on tobacco products to help make up for the budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll by a group advocating for the increase.

The poll, conducted by Landmark Communications on behalf of the American Heart Association, found that 74.5% of voters contacted said Georgia should increase the state tobacco tax at least $1.50. Georgia currently taxes tobacco at 37 cents per pack, which is among the rates lowest in the nation.

Atlanta American Heart Association Board President Dr. Michael A. Balk, who serves as the chief quality officer at  Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta, said in a press release that increasing the tax — and, in turn, the price — on tobacco products would reduce smoking among children  and young adults.

“Georgia is experiencing unexpected and significant budget shortfalls and this poll demonstrates the strong support by Georgia voters for a revenue solution through a tobacco tax increase that will at once create public health benefits as well as save taxpayers money over time by reducing smoking,” Balk said.

Lawmakers for years have attempted to increase the state tax on tobacco sales, but efforts have routinely failed since Georgia passed a modest increase in 2003. Several bills and resolutions pushing for an increase in the tax were introduced this legislative session, but none gained any traction.

In the poll, respondents were asked, “generally speaking, instead of an income tax increase, would you support or oppose a targeted tax increase of $1.50 per pack on cigarettes that would raise almost $500 million toward balancing the budget?” Of the 500 people contacted for the poll, 373 said they support the tobacco tax increase.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4%.

It was taken shortly after the leaders of Georgia House and Senate budget committees asked state agencies to submit plans to cut 14% - or more than $3.5 billion - from their proposed budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. Lawmakers said the cuts are needed because of a decline in tax revenue due to the coronavirus recession.