To the editor:
Here's the problem: Every year, more than 13,000 Georgia kids become daily smokers and nearly one-third of them will die a premature death because of it.
Here's the solution: As the Georgia Legislature considers ways to reduce health care costs and teenage smoking rates, one of its top priorities should be approving a $1 per pack increase in the state tobacco tax. House Bill 1197 would dramatically improve the health of our kids and adults by combating the No. 1 preventable cause of death in Georgia and the United States - tobacco. Research shows that significant increases in tobacco taxes are a proven solution that will discourage children from starting to smoke, reduce smoking rates, save lives and reduce health care costs for generations to come.
A $1 tobacco tax increase would prevent some 114,000 Georgia kids alive today from becoming smokers, save 16,600 adults from smoking-caused deaths, produce more than $2.59 billion in long-term health care savings, and raise about $378 million a year in new revenue for tobacco prevention, public education and other critical programs.
Increasing the tobacco tax also is a political win that is overwhelmingly popular with Georgia voters. A recent poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies shows that 75 percent of Georgia voters favor a $1 per pack tobacco tax as part of an effort to reduce tobacco use, particularly among kids, and to help fund state health care programs. The survey also showed that 82 percent of voters were concerned about smoking and other tobacco use among Georgia's young people.
An increase in the tobacco tax would address that concern by opening a new door to fund much-needed tobacco prevention programs. Georgia currently ranks a disappointing 48th in the nation in funding programs to protect kids from tobacco, spending a mere $2.2 million of the more than $405 million it receives in tobacco settlement revenue every year. Georgia's commitment pales in comparison to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation that Georgia spend $116.5 million a year in order to sustain an effective tobacco prevention program. In contrast, the tobacco companies spend more than $444 million a year marketing their products in Georgia. These numbers show once again just how critical it is for Georgia to take a stand against Big Tobacco and fight for the health and future of its children.
Each year, tobacco claims 10,300 Georgians' lives from cardiovascular disease and lung cancer and costs the state $2.25 billion in health care bills, including $537 million in Medicaid payments alone. For every Georgia household, government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $565 each year.
The problem is clear. The solution is clear. All we need is the political will. The Georgia Legislature must seize this critical opportunity to improve the health of Georgia for generations to come by approving a $1 increase in the tobacco tax.
Bill Burns, Georgia advocacy director for the American Heart Association
June Deen, Southeast vice president for public affairs for the American Lung Association
Scott Mathews, Georgia director of government relations for the American Cancer Society
Melinda Little, Southern region director for Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids