Today, while much of the Tobacco Atlas Team calls the US state of Georgia home, we want to tip our collective caps to the country of Georgia for implementing one of the strongest single comprehensive tobacco control laws in the world. We are hard-pressed to find an example of a law that did more to bring a country from being a tobacco control laggard to a tobacco control leader in one go.

A Strong New Tobacco Control Policy

Last May, Georgia’s Parliament passed, and President Giorgi Margvelashvili signed a bill presented by MP Guguli Magradze amending the Tobacco Control Law. The law addresses the marketing of tobacco products, packaging and labelling, smoke-free air, regulation of novel nicotine products, regulation of flavored products, anti-tobacco advertisements, and even the relationship between industry and the national government.

The first provisions were intended to come into effect at the beginning of 2018, when plain packaging was required for all tobacco products except for e-cigarettes. But not long after the bill was passed, the government decided to postpone the implementation of plain packaging until the end of 2022.  The reasons for this decision are not clear, but with all due respect to the reporting conducted by Forbes, the Tobacco Atlas Team does not agree that “the controversial nature” of a plain packaging policy by itself explains the delay.

So as of May 1st, 2018, a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places went into effect, marking the true beginning of the implementation of the new law. The ban extends to public transport and has the foresight to cover the use of waterpipe and novel tobacco products. By 2020, the ban will extend to all hotels and stadiums.

By September 1st, 2018, tobacco products will no longer be allowed to be visible from outside their point of sale, a ban that will extend to a total ban on display at the point of sale in 2021. Additionally, September marks the introduction of a comprehensive ban on direct and indirect advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products. Also, movies that contain smoking will be required to warn patrons of this content and provide a health warning targeted to minors.

Further, tobacco products will no longer be allowed to be sold within a 50-meter radius of a school, decreasing the number of places where youth can become addicted to tobacco. Additionally, tobacco products will no longer be allowed to be sold over the internet, through the mail, or in vending machines.

How Change Happened

Georgia appears to be making great and relatively swift strides in the fight against tobacco use. What has motivated this change?

First, there are strong champions within both government and civil society in Georgia advocating vigorously for improved tobacco control. Their efforts are finally bearing fruit.

Second, Georgia is one of the 15 countries that were selected in 2017 to partner with the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in their FCTC 2030 project. Within that project, Georgia has received direct support focused on achieving the Convention’s obligations, including measures for advertising bans, health warnings, and smoke free places. This new engagement with the FCTC Secretariat boosted Georgia’s previous collaborations with international health organizations, such as with the Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, which has been engaged in tobacco control efforts in Georgia since 2009.

The other major factor that motivated Georgia’s recent achievements in tobacco control is the country’s candidacy to join the European Union. In 2014 Georgia signed an Association Agreement with the European Union as the country strives to become a new EU member along with Ukraine and Moldova. As a result, Georgia will soon need to implement the provisions of the EU’s Tobacco Product Directive and Tobacco Tax Directive. A series of recent tobacco tax increases that were beyond the scope of last year’s law shows that the country is moving quickly to fulfill the EU’s Tobacco Tax Directive obligations. However, by passing this new, comprehensive tobacco control law, the Georgian parliament has gone above and beyond the minimum provisions of the EU’s Tobacco Product Directive. Subsequently, Georgia has suddenly become a public health role model for some EU Members that are still lagging with implementation of life-saving tobacco control measures.

Vital Strategies Created a Short Video Celebrating the Roll Out of the New Law

By Alex Liber and Michal Stoklosa