A major increase to the state’s tobacco tax is among the proposals expected to surface as the Georgia General Assembly starts to tackle healthcare issues.

The 2019 session starts Jan. 14.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, said he supports legislation similar to House Bill 1074, introduced by Republican Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah near the close of last year’s session. It would have raised the tax on a pack of cigarettes from 37 cents to $1.87.

“That’s about the national average,” Hufstetler said.

A 2018 analysis by the independent nonprofit Tax Foundation put the average at $1.70. It ranged from a low of 17 cents in Missouri — Virginia’s 30 cents was the only other tax lower than Georgia’s — to a high of $4.35 a pack in New York and Connecticut.

Stephens’ bill also would have hiked the tax on cigars, cigarillos and smokeless tobacco. Hufstetler wants to include vaping.

“There’s a report from the Surgeon General that says e-cigarettes are reaching epidemic proportions in our high schools. We need to address that,” Hufstetler said.

A higher tax would deter people from starting the habit, he said, and raise money to deal with the healthcare cost. He cited a Georgia Budget & Policy Institute report that says a $1 increase per pack would raise more than $400 million a year.

Hufstetler also noted a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that smoking-related illnesses and deaths cost Georgia about $3 billion a year.

“And we’re only collecting about $200 million a year now,” he said. “If the high tax meant we sold zero cigarettes and collected zero dollars, we’d still be billions of dollars ahead in the state.”

Note: This report was updated to correct a quote.