Georgia - tobacco tax increase on the horizon..

March 9, 2009 - A new poll released on March 2, 2010 shows that 73 percent of Georgia voters support raising the tobacco tax by $1 per pack to cut the state’s budget deficit and help preserve Medicaid funding in the state. This support comes from a broad-based coalition of voters, including 72 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of Democrats, and 65 percent of Independents. Even half of smokers (50 percent) support the tobacco tax increase to preserve health care funding. (73% of Georgia Voters Favor $1 Tobacco Tax Increase to Help Cut State's Budget Deficit Tobacco tax would bring in $354 million in new revenue, reduce youth smoking)

After a two week recess, the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes on Monday, March 8 for the 21st Legislative Day of the 2010 session. Health care advocates (100 health care professionals and members of the faith community) on Monday held a rally urging Georgia lawmakers to pass a dollar-a-pack cigarette tax as a way to save lives, reduce teen smoking and partially close an estimated $1 billion hole in the state budget.

The proposed tax would raise an estimated $354 million annually and -- proponents say -- decrease the number of smokers. “Tobacco takes a huge toll in Georgia,” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society’s national deputy chief medical officer. “Thirty people in our state die every day due to tobacco.” Lichtenfeld said there are 1.4 million smokers in the state and about 10,500 deaths linked to smoking annually.

State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) said during the rally that he is a fiscal conservative, but he said the Legislature should pass HB 39 to help close the budget deficit and bring state cigarette taxes in line with the rest of the nation. He said the state tax in Georgia is 37 cents, compared with a national average of $1.34 per pack. (In July 2003 for the first time in 32 years, Georgia increased its tax on tobacco products from 12 cents per pack to 37 cents.)

Stephens took a shot at Americans for Prosperity, the sponsor of Tuesday’s anti-tax rally, saying the group has ties to the tobacco industry. “They ought to be ashamed,” Stephens said. “I though they were smarter than that.” A spokesman for Americans for Prosperity said that the Altria company paid for an email Altria sent to adult smokers opposing the cigarette tax, but is not sponsoring Tuesday's rally.

Dr. Douglas Morris, an Emory University medical professor, said smoking damages human health, harms the environment and can lead smokers to other addictive behaviors. Pamela Perkins, coordinator of the Interfaith Children’s Movement, urged lawmakers to act now on the tax. “This is the right time to do what is right for the children of Georgia,” she said.

Reference: Advocates: Cigarette tax would save lives and close budget hole"> by Jim Tharpe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/8/2010.