Tobacco use remains the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease, taking an estimated 480,000 lives every year. This year’s “State of Tobacco Control” report from the American Lung Association finds Georgia earned failing grades on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use. The American Lung Association calls on Georgia officials to pass tobacco tax legislation to save lives.
The need for Georgia to take action to protect youth from tobacco is more urgent than ever, with youth e-cigarette use reaching epidemic levels due to a 78 percent increase in high school e-cigarette use from 2017 to 2018, according to results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. This equals one million additional kids beginning to use e-cigarettes, placing their developing bodies and lungs at risk from the chemicals in e-cigarettes as well as a lifetime of addiction to a deadly product. This has caused the U.S. Surgeon General to declare e-cigarette use among young people an epidemic in an Advisory issued in December 2018.
“In Georgia, our smoking rates remain at 17.5 percent]. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and we need to invest in the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’,” said American Lung Association Senior Director of Advocacy, June Deen. “The report provides a roadmap on how to save lives, but much work remains to be done in communities across Georgia to prevent and reduce tobacco use.”
The 17th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and finds that elected officials must do more to save lives and ensure all Georgia residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke:
Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade [F]
Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws - Grade [D]
Level of State Tobacco Taxes - Grade [F]
Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco - Grade [F]
Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade [F]
The American Lung Association encourages Georgia to fully fund tobacco control efforts at levels recommended by the CDC, and, this year’s report noted the need to focus on tobacco taxes.
Increasing tobacco taxes is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use, not only among low-income individuals but also for youth. Multiple studies have shown that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces consumption by about four percent among adults and about seven percent among youth.
“To protect kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction, the Lung Association encourages Georgia to increase tobacco taxes. This step is critical to Georgia as current tobacco use among youth is 8.2 percent,” said Deen.
The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, and if Georgia would pass a comprehensive smokefree law that eliminates smoking in all public places and workplaces, workers across the state would benefit. This health protection would benefit everyone and is especially critical for those who work in the service and manufacturing sectors who are often exposed to secondhand smoke daily.
“Opportunities for better health begin where people work, live and play, and a person should not have to be exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke to put food on the table,” said Deen.
If Georgia would increase funding for tobacco control programs, they would have a powerful opportunity to help further reduce and prevent tobacco use, including supporting communities that still use tobacco at higher rates and who have been targeted by the tobacco industry. An investment in prevention is especially important given the skyrocketing number of youth who are using e-cigarettes. Despite Georgia receiving $393,300,000 from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes, the state does not fund tobacco control efforts at levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“This year marks the 20th anniversary of the largest legal settlement in U.S. history – the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. Georgia receives millions of dollars every year from this settlement, and we believe the funds should be used to support the health of our communities, and to help smokers quit and prevent tobacco use,” said Deen.
Nearly seven out of 10 smokers want to quit, but tobacco use is a serious addiction and quitting can be difficult. Evidence suggests that the number of people quitting smoking increased when coverage for tobacco treatments provides access to all seven FDA-approved tobacco cessation medications and all three forms of counseling without barriers, such as copays and prior authorization. Georgia lawmakers have a powerful opportunity to help smokers quit and reduce disparities in tobacco use by covering all quit smoking treatments in its Medicaid program.
“Covering quit smoking treatments in Georgia is the correct and smart choice. Not only will it help smokers quit and save lives, but it will also cut healthcare costs – a win-win for the health of Georgia residents and the economy,” said Deen.
Tobacco is a highly addictive product, and close to 95 percent of smokers try their first cigarette by the age of 21. More must be done to prevent and reduce youth tobacco use in Georgia, and one powerful tool is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products to 21.
“Virtually all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18, but we can change this in Georgia by increasing the age of sale for tobacco products to at least 21 years old. This move would significantly reduce youth tobacco use, slow the e-cigarette epidemic and save thousands of lives,” said Deen. “In the 2019 ‘State of Tobacco Control’ report, we call for officials to take action and protect the children of Georgia by raising the minimum sales age for tobacco, including e-cigarettes to 21,” said Deen.
“Nationwide, increasing the age of sale of tobacco to 21 would prevent 223,000 deaths among people born between 2000 and 2019, including 50,000 fewer dying from lung cancer – the nation’s leading cancer killer,”said Deen.
“State of Tobacco Control” 2019 provides a blueprint that states, and the federal government can follow to put in place proven policies that will have the greatest impact on reducing tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in the U.S. The real question is: Will lawmakers in Georgia end their failure to act and take this opportunity to achieve lasting reductions in tobacco-related death and disease?”