Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States and in Georgia. To address this enormous toll, the American Lung Association in Georgia calls for the following actions to be taken by our elected officials:
- Increase tobacco control program funding;
- Increase the number of local comprehensive smokefree air laws; and
- Substantially increase the price of tobacco products, including electronic smoking devices.
Georgia has, for several years now, been in the bottom tier of states providing vital funding to reduce tobacco use. Georgia's state tobacco prevention program and quitline run on little state funding compared to previous years when tobacco Master Settlement Agreement dollars first came into the state. Georgia ranks 48th out of 50 states in the amount of taxes levied on cigarettes. Georgia's cigarette tax is 37 cents per pack; the national state average is $1.71 per pack. Despite a growing population with increasing health needs, state leaders have repeatedly overlooked a tobacco tax increase as a source of funds to meet these challenges and reduce smoking rates.
The City of Columbus came very close to passage of a comprehensive smokefree air ordinance in 2017. A May 2017 poll showed an overall 69 percent of voters supported a city ordinance to prevent smoking in public places and 83 percent of voters believed employees should be protected from exposure to secondhand smoke while on the job. However, the proposal was pulled from consideration when weakening amendments threatened to diminish the health impact of the ordinance. A new ordinance is expected to be proposed in 2018. Also, a revival of a comprehensive smokefree air ordinance in Augusta was pending when this report went to press. And, support is high for a similar ordinance to move forward in Atlanta in 2018.
In 2016, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport announced they would convert their 'smoking rooms' into cigar bars requiring patrons to pay to smoke in the bars, and potentially exposing the rest of the traveling public to secondhand smoke. Legislation to authorize the contract was held in the Atlanta City Council Transportation Committee in 2017 but never acted upon.
The Georgia Legislature should make increased funding for state tobacco prevention programs and Georgia's Quitline a priority in the 2018 legislative session. Adequately funded state programs that prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit are proven to save lives and money. Few elected officials know that the state's tobacco prevention program receives little state funding from the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. The American Lung Association in Georgia and tobacco control supporters will continue to educate General Assembly members on the benefits of this change in 2018. At the local level, we will continue to call for strong local smokefree ordinances.