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State should hike tobacco tax
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Representative Ron Stephens file legislation to increase Georgia’s cigarette tax by $1 on Jan. 6, at the State Capitol.
Dr. Matt Mumber and a large group of oncologists are among those who strongly support the move.
“Georgia is facing some tough decisions regarding our health care system and our budget”, said Mumber, a radiation oncologist and president of the Georgia Society of Clinical Oncology. “We need to save lives by reducing smoking, and also by funding proven cancer prevention strategies. The evidence strongly suggests that a significant increase in our cigarette tax would go a long way towards effectively addressing both.”
In addition to being the single most preventable cause of cancer, cigarette smoking has been linked with a number of costly healthcare ailments including low birth weight, asthma, respiratory infection, ear infections and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
“The burden that cigarette smoking places on our health care resources — and subsequently our state budget — is staggering,” said Dr. Harvey Lebos, a Savannah based oncologist and past president of GASCO. A recent Centers for Disease Control report showed Georgia spent about $600 million in 2006 treating tobacco-related disease through its state Medicaid program.
“GASCO supports an increased tobacco tax because we see the devastating toll of tobacco use in our offices every day, but given the current state of our economy, the revenue implications are hard to ignore as well,” Lebos said.
A number of studies have shown that higher tobacco prices significantly reduce consumption while increasing state revenue.  A $1 increase in Georgia’s cigarette tax would decrease smoking by an estimated 6 percent and generate an estimated $440 million per year in new revenue for the state. Georgia’s current cigarette tax of 37 cents per pack ranks Georgia as the 43rd lowest rate among the 50 states. According to many economists, cigarette taxes are a more reliable and predictable source of revenue than other taxes such as state income or corporate taxes. In fact, 44 states have increased their tobacco taxes since 2000, and in each case, revenue increased and cigarette consumption decreased.
“If that is not a “win-win” then I don’t know what is” said state Sen. Don Thomas, a physician from Dalton who supports the bill. “I have practiced medicine in Georgia for over 40 years and I can tell you that the healthcare reasons alone are enough to warrant this cigarette tax increase,” Thomas said. “But the fact that Georgia may be confronted with employee layoffs, education cuts, larger class sizes, and cuts to corrections institutions, road projects and other projects vital to Georgia’s continued growth makes this a no brainer. Last year we couldn’t fund a trauma care network. This year we may be cutting health services. But somehow, tobacco is untouchable. I am trying to understand what is so important about cheap cigarettes. What are we willing to sacrifice at the altar of cheap tobacco?”
Many other health organizations agree. The Georgia Association of Family Physicians, Medical Association of Georgia, Academy of Pediatrics, Regional Cancer Coalitions, Georgia OB/GYN Society, and more than 50 other organizations have all signed on to a resolution supporting the measure.

Andy Lord,
Georgia Capitol Solutions

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