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Georgia must do more to stop young people from smoking

I was very disappointed that Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed House Bill 887, which would have created an advisory committee to recommend to the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker the best tobacco-use prevention and education programs and practices to reduce smoking rates in Georgia.

The bill had overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate and was approved 138-13 in the House and 49-0 in the Senate before being sent to the governor's desk. Funds from the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement are supposed to be spent on tobacco education and prevention. But in Georgia, less than 2 percent of the MSA dollars are spent on tobacco-use prevention and control.

In 2007, the CDC recommended that to run an effective tobacco control program in Georgia, the state would need to invest at least 30 percent of tobacco revenue and MSA funding. The money would be well spent since tobacco-related health care costs total more than $2.2 billion in Georgia. Among the state's high school students, one out of five boys and one out of every six girls are smokers. Research tells us that the majority of smokers take their first puff between the ages of 13 and 18.

In his veto message on HB 887, Gov. Perdue said remedies already exist for ensuring that tobacco settlement dollars are spent properly in Georgia. But if that were true, Georgia wouldn't be last or near last among the states on money spent on tobacco education and prevention from the tobacco settlement dollars.

The status quo simply isn't working, and HB 887 addressed the issue with an inclusive plan that created an advisory committee made up of two House and Senate Representatives, the Department of Human Resources, the Department of Community Health, the Medical Association, a public health professional from Georgia State, the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association and the Georgia Medical Association.

I hope the American Cancer Society will work with HB 887 sponsor Rep. Mark Butler, R-Carrollton, to introduce the bill again next year.

Georgia needs to be doing all that it can to discourage our youth and adults from smoking and to reduce health care costs attributed to smoking by offering effective programs.

Phylecia D. Wilson is a member of the American Cancer Society's Gwinnett and South Atlanta boards, the Georgia ACS public policy and advocacy committee, and the Governor's Advisory Council on Women's Health.