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May 1, 2018

Georgia implements comprehensive reforms to protect people from the harms of tobacco use

(New York, USA and London, UK) – Strong new legislation to reduce tobacco use and protect people from the harms of smoking comes into force in Georgia today — including bans on smoking in indoor public places, tobacco advertising and promotion, and misleading terminology on tobacco packaging such as ‘light’ and ‘mild’. This is the first round of a comprehensive set of laws that will be rolled out during 2018 in an effort to curb the country’s high smoking rates.

According to The Tobacco Atlas, 57.7 percent of men and 5.7 percent of women in Georgia are daily smokers. In 2016, over 23 percent of deaths among men and 5.7 percent of deaths among women were caused by tobacco. The economic cost of smoking in Georgia, around 619 million GEL, includes direct healthcare costs and indirect costs due to lost productivity through ill-health and premature mortality. Last May, Georgia’s Parliament passed laws in line with WHO best-practice MPOWER measures for reducing tobacco use to tackle this public health threat. Those measures start coming into effect on 1 May 2018.

The Director General of the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health, Amiran Gamkrelidze, said their goal was to reduce smoking rates by one percent each year through rigorous enforcement of the new tobacco control laws. “Our law was amended last year, and now everything counts on enforcement,” he said. “In Georgia, more than 20 percent of deaths each year are tobacco-related. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for developing non-communicable diseases.”

The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) has provided technical support and grant-funding for development of evidence-based tobacco control policies in Georgia since 2009, as part of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use.

José Luis Castro, Executive Director of The Union and CEO and President of Vital Strategies, said: “There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Georgia’s new laws will ensure that people are protected from these toxic chemicals. We know that smoke-free laws also encourage smokers to reduce their tobacco use, and ultimately to quit.

“We congratulate Georgia for taking a strong stand against the tobacco industry, and protecting and promoting the health and wealth of its citizens above the interests of these multinational businesses. Georgia is becoming a regional leader for its efforts to reduce tobacco use at the population level.”

A media campaign featuring TV and radio adverts, social media content, billboards, and print, digital and cinema advertising has been launched to raise awareness and encourage compliance with the new smoke-free law. ‘Smokefree’ which has been broadcast since April, uses infographics to show why and where smoking is now banned. ‘Clinical’ which launches at the start of May, shows the health harms caused by exposure to second-hand smoke. Vital Strategies provided financial and technical support for the campaign.

Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President of Policy, Advocacy and Communication at Vital Strategies, said: “The use of media campaigns is a proven, positive and cost-effective way to communicate the need for smoke-free laws and to ensure the public knows where those laws apply. It helps to change opinions, effect behavior change, and increase compliance. It can also encourage smokers to implement voluntary smoking bans at home. In Georgia, this would protect women and children – including more than 43 percent of 13-15 year-olds, according to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey, 2017 – currently exposed to secondhand smoke at home. This would be a clear win for health.”

Regulations that come into force from today include:

– Smoking and use of e-cigarettes is banned on all public transport and public buildings, with the exception of casinos, cigar bars, prisons, palliative care units and private taxis. Ensuring smoke-free compliance falls to the owners and managers of public venues. Offenders will be fined on-the-spot: 500 GEL (US$ 250) for the first offence, doubling for the second offence.

– All forms of tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship are banned, and health warnings will be displayed before and after films where smoking is shown.

– Georgia’s ‘drive-through’ tobacco sales outlets are also now banned, as are sales online and through the post.

– Additional legislation to prevent direct or indirect tobacco industry involvement in health policy-making.

– In September, larger graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging to cover 65 percent of the front of packets come into force, with a view to introducing plain or standardised tobacco packs from January 2023.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact press@vitalstrategies.org

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