Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Georgia Ranks 43rd in Protecting Kids from Tobacco

/PRNewswire/ -- Georgia ranks 43rd in the nation in funding programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, according to a national report released today by a coalition of public health organizations.

Georgia currently spends $2 million a year on tobacco prevention and cessation programs, which is 1.8 percent of the $116.5 million recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other key findings for Georgia include:

* Georgia this year will collect $369 million from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend just 0.6 percent of it on tobacco prevention programs.
* The tobacco companies spend $426.4 million a year to market their products in Georgia. This is 209 times what the state spends on tobacco prevention.

The annual report on states' funding of tobacco prevention programs, titled "A Broken Promise to Our Children: The 1998 State Tobacco Settlement 12 Years Later," 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.

In addition to its lack of funding for tobacco prevention, Georgia's cigarette tax is only 37 cents per pack, which is the 48th lowest in the nation and well below the national average of $1.45 per pack. Increasing the cigarette tax is a proven way to reduce smoking, especially among kids.

"Georgia again is one of the most disappointing states and has failed to make the commitment needed to protect kids from tobacco," said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "To reduce tobacco use and help balance the state budget at the same time, Governor-elect Deal and the Legislature should raise the tobacco tax and increase funding for tobacco prevention. Even in these difficult budget times, tobacco prevention investment that saves lives and saves money by reducing health care costs."

In Georgia, 16.9 percent of high school students smoke, and 11,400 more kids become regular smokers every year. Each year, tobacco claims 10,500 lives and costs the state $2.25 billion in health care bills.

Nationally, the report finds that most states are failing to adequately fund programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. Altogether, the states have cut funding for these programs to the lowest level since 1999, when they first started receiving tobacco settlement payments. Key national findings of the report include:

* The states this year will collect $25.3 billion from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend just two percent of it – $517.9 million – on tobacco prevention programs.
* States have cut funding for tobacco prevention programs by nine percent ($51.4 million) in the past year and by 28 percent ($199.3 million) in the past three years.
* Only two states – Alaska and North Dakota – currently fund tobacco prevention programs at the CDC-recommended level.

The report warns that the nation's progress in reducing smoking is at risk unless states increase funding for programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. The United States has significantly reduced smoking among both youth and adults, but 20.6 percent of adults and 19.5 percent of high school students still smoke.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 400,000 people and costing $96 billion in health care bills each year.

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