Tuesday, November 18, 2008

National Report Ranks Georgia 50th in Protecting Kids from Tobacco

TT Note: Where do the kids smoke? So many areas are smoke free these days and I have to admit I like the fresher air. Maybe Georgia should consider collecting two dollars from the tobacco companies for every dollar the companies spend in advertising in the state. Perhaps convenience stores will have to tighten their own rules and regulations for selling cigarettes to minors. Just a thought.

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Ten years after the November 1998 state tobacco settlement, Georgia ranks 50th in the nation in funding programs to protect kids from tobacco, according to a national report released today by a coalition of public health organizations.

Georgia currently spends $3.2 million a year on tobacco prevention programs, which is 2.7 percent of the $116.5 million recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Other key findings for Georgia include:
-- The tobacco companies spend more than $444 million a year on marketing
in Georgia. This is 139 times what the state spends on tobacco
prevention.
-- Georgia this year will collect $393 million from the tobacco
settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend less than 1 percent of it
on tobacco prevention.


The annual report on states' funding of tobacco prevention programs, titled "A Decade of Broken Promises," was released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

"Georgia is one of the most disappointing states when it comes to funding programs to protect kids from tobacco," said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "On this 10th anniversary of the tobacco settlement, we call on Georgia's leaders to raise the state cigarette tax and use some of the new revenue to increase funding for tobacco prevention. Tobacco prevention is a smart investment that reduces smoking, saves lives and saves money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs."

Georgia's current cigarette tax of 37 cents per pack is 43rd in the nation and well below the national average of $1.19 per pack. Scientific studies have found that increasing cigarette prices is one of the most effective ways to prevent kids from smoking and encourage smokers to quit.

On Nov. 23, 1998, 46 states settled their lawsuits against the nation's major tobacco companies to recover tobacco-related health care costs, joining four states (Mississippi, Texas, Florida and Minnesota) that had reached earlier settlements. These settlements require the tobacco companies to make annual payments to the states in perpetuity, with total payments estimated at $246 billion over the first 25 years. The states also collect billions of dollars each year in tobacco taxes.

The new report finds that most states have broken their promise to use a significant portion of their tobacco money to fund programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

According to the report, the states in the last 10 years have received $203.5 billion in revenue from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. But they have spent only 3.2 percent of this tobacco money - $6.5 billion - on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

Other findings of the report include:
-- In the current year, no state is funding tobacco prevention at
CDC-recommended levels, and only nine states fund their programs at
even half of the CDC recommendation.
-- 41 states and the District of Columbia are funding tobacco prevention
programs at less than half the CDC-recommended amount. These include
27 states that are providing less than a quarter of the recommended
funding.
-- Total funding for state tobacco prevention programs this year, $718.1
million, amounts to less than three percent of the $24.6 billion the
states will collect from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. It
would take just 15 percent of this tobacco revenue to fund tobacco
prevention programs in every state at CDC-recommended levels.


The report warns that the nation faces two immediate challenges in the fight against tobacco use: complacency and looming state budget shortfalls. First, while the nation has made significant progress over the past decade in reducing smoking, progress has slowed and further progress is at risk without aggressive efforts at all levels of government. Second, the states are expected to face budget shortfalls in the coming year as a result of the weak economy. The last time the states faced significant budget shortfalls, they cut funding for tobacco prevention programs by 28 percent between 2002 and 2005. The cutbacks are a major reason why smoking declines subsequently stalled, and states should not make the same mistake again.

The report found that there is more evidence than ever that tobacco prevention programs work to reduce smoking, save lives and save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. Washington State, which has been a national leader in funding tobacco prevention, has reduced smoking by 60 percent among sixth graders and by 43 percent among 12th graders since the late 1990s. A recent study found that California's tobacco control program saved $86 billion in health care costs in its first 15 years, compared to $1.8 billion spent on the program, for a return on investment of nearly 50:1.

In Georgia, 18.6 percent of high school students smoke, and 11,300 more kids become regular smokers every year. Each year, tobacco claims 10,300 lives and costs the state $2.25 billion in health care bills.

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