Smoking is having a moment in the United States. According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death. About one out of every five deaths is linked to tobacco use, according to the agency. But across the U.S., smoking rates have been declining for years.
In 2015, the percentage of adult smokers dropped to 15 percent. That’s down from almost 21 percent in 2005 and nearly 45 percent in the 1960s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.That’s good news for public health, even as more people shift to vaping devices and e-cigarettes, the health effects of which are still largely up in the air.
But Georgia is lagging behind even as the rest of the country moves on, according to a newly released report from the American Lung Association.
The organization graded the state on five criteria: funding for tobacco prevention programs, strength of smoke-free workplace laws, level of state tobacco taxes, access of services to help quit smoking, and requiring a minimum age of 21 to purchase tobacco products.
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Georgia failed all the ALA’s measures other than the strength of its smoke-free workplace laws, of which it got a C.
“Tobacco use is a serious addiction, and the fact that 17.9 percent of Georgia residents are current smokers highlights how much work remains to be done in our communities to prevent and reduce tobacco use,” said American Lung Association Southeast Region Executive Vice President Martha Bogdan.
The organization put the high school smoking rate for Georgia around 11 percent, and the number of smoking-related deaths at 11,690. The state itself puts the number of deaths between 11,500 and 12,140 per year.
Georgia began a strategic tobacco control plan in 2015. At that time, the state found that about 21 percent of adults in Georgia smoked cigarettes, as well as 13 percent of youth. Most smokers in the state are clustered in middle and western Georgia, as well as on the southeastern coast.
The plan called for the state to pursue some measurable goals, like decreasing the exposure of people to secondhand smoke in the workplace by 2 percent, get more people to at least try to quit and to send more people who want to quit to doctors who could help. The state proposed doing this through the creation of educational resources, training, media ad placements and other tactics.
There is also a free tobacco quit line available for those who are considering quitting tobacco and need help.
The American Lung Association says these efforts have not yet been enough to catch Georgia up with the pace of the rest of the country.
“We know how to reduce tobacco use in this country. ‘State of Tobacco Control’ looks at proven methods to save lives and protect the health of all Americans,” the organization wrote. “Georgia elected officials must act to implement these proven policies, which will prevent tobacco-caused death and disease, and help keep our lungs healthy.”
The organization says some of the measures needed are improving health insurance coverage for tobacco cessation methods, increasing the minimum purchase age to 21, increasing taxes on tobacco, and increasing funding for tobacco use prevention programs. Georgia’s cigarette tax, for instance, is one of the lowest in the country at 37 cents a pack. New York has the highest, at more than $4 per pack.
“The American Lung Association in Georgia calls on Governor Nathan Deal and other Georgia policymakers to increase tobacco control program funding, substantially increase the price of tobacco products, and urges local cities and counties to pass local smoke-free ordinances that further protect workers and places open to the public from secondhand smoke,” the organization wrote.
Proposals have been made in recent months to address smoking, and secondhand smoking in particular, in Columbus and Alabama. A proposal to make Columbus a smoke-free city rankled some business owners and residents, and a bill currently floating through the Alabama legislature would ban smoking in a car with children present.