Viewpoint: Want to get serious about reducing cancer deaths? Start with raising taxes on tobacco

Every year, the American Cancer Society does a great public service by charting states’ progress toward preventing and reducing the number of deaths from cancer (Aug. 7-13 Business Chronicle). This year’s report is another wake-up call for Georgia: Out of 10 key policy metrics, our state is “doing well” in just one.

The state’s milestones and Cancer Plan are offset by inadequate progress in other areas, as the ACS report reminds us. Tobacco use is one; it’s the area of the ACS report where Georgia is weakest. So, getting more Georgians to quit tobacco is paramount, and the best place to start is to increase the tax on tobacco purchases.

Right now, tobacco use in Georgia drives more than $3 billion in annual health care expenditures in the state, according to the CDC. Such a mind-boggling number might explain why tobacco-related health issues cost companies more in lost productivity than alcohol use or family emergencies, a national survey of nearly 30,000 workers found.

Why does this matter? Because research has shown that the harder tobacco is to afford, the more people will give it up. This is especially true of our youngest citizens; nine of out 10 current smokers started as teenagers. “And it’s been shown that raising taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products deters young people from starting to smoke and can promote smoking cessation,” says Johanna Hinman, president of the Georgia Public Health Association.

Simply bringing our tobacco tax up to the national average would promote a healthier lifestyle for Georgians. Policy experts say it would also generate over a half-billion dollars in new revenue for the state while at the same time reducing those massive health care expenditures brought on by tobacco.

Interestingly, an increase on Georgia’s tax on tobacco has strong bipartisan support – from the citizens. Nearly three-fourths say we should start at $1 or more per pack. But state lawmakers declined to add tobacco tax to legislation earlier this year.

All hope is not lost, however: The issue will be back in the next session of the Georgia General Assembly. When the voice of business joins the chorus of voters from both parties, perhaps this common-sense solution will see the light of day.

To read this article as published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, please go here.


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