May 24, 2010

Youth group goes downtown to discourage smoking

Willie Pappas doesn’t smoke and he doesn’t want anyone else to use tobacco. Pappas is a member of the Local Youth Leadership Club, whose members were on Adamson Square in Carrollton Wednesday afternoon trying to get their message out.

“A lot of these cigarette companies are trying to get the kids smoking cigarettes, so we’re out here trying to tell people what’s in cigarettes,” said Pappas as he and other club members held anti-smoking signs and passed out pamphlets to passersby describing the harmful chemicals in cigarettes. “People need to know what the kids are smoking and what their kids are smoking, and maybe then they won’t smoke. They think it’s a minor drug, that it won’t do much harm to them, but they don’t realize all the chemicals that are in it. We’re just trying to make them aware.”

The club is in partnership with the Carrollton Housing Authority and is funded by a grant through District 4 Public Health. The group is in favor of a $1 tax increase on packs of cigarettes for a simple reason that could save lives, said Brandolynn Marenco, abstinence education coordinator with the Housing Authority.

“If taxes are increased on tobacco products then people are going to be less likely to buy them and more likely to quit if the price is going up,” Marenco said.

House Bill 39, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens, who represents portions of Bryan, Chatham and Liberty counties in southeast Georgia, would raise the state taxes on each pack of cigarettes by $1, increasing the per-pack tax from 37 cents to $1.37.

Stephens said the state is in a major revenue crisis, with the Georgia General Assembly needing to plug a $1.1 billion in the state budget before the session ends sometime in late April or early May. An additional $1 on cigarettes would not only provide $350 million in new revenue, Stephens said, but it would also put the ever increasing burden of paying for health care for tobacco-related illnesses on the smokers themselves.

Under the current tax structure, Georgia’s cigarette tax generates about $237 million a year, but the state spends $537 million a year treating smoking-related illnesses in Medicaid patients alone.

Marenco said the problem is that cigarette companies target the younger generation in the hopes of getting them hooked an early age and then making them a customer for life. “They call our teens their future customers,” she said.The dangers in cigarettes are very much what’s not seen, in that they contain chemicals that are commonly understood to be harmful, Pappas said.

“I think that they [tobacco users] know that it’s not good for them, but most of them don’t know all the chemical things that are what makes them bad,” said club member Brandon Rowe. “But they are really bad.”