With Georgia’s budget in crisis, state legislators have explored increasingly desperate tax measures to raise money. The latest ill-conceived proposal, reinstating the state sales tax on groceries, emerged suddenly and then died just as quickly as a result of taxpayer backlash.

All the while, legislators have stubbornly ignored the most obvious revenue generator: increasing the state tax on cigarettes.

Georgia’s 37-cent state tax on a pack of cigarettes is 44th lowest in the nation. Raising the tax by $1 could generate $298 million, according to anti-smoking advocates, more than the $250 million from the grocery tax.

Gov. Sonny Perdue and lawmakers need that money to avoid inflicting serious harm to Georgia’s health-care system ...

With the session ending soon, a cigarette tax is one way out of the mess. Cigarette taxes do fall hard on many Georgians who can ill afford to pay more for their daily habit, but the experience of other states suggests that raising the tax on cigarettes can also significantly cut consumption.

... Philosophically, such an approach is no different from Perdue’s proposal to fine “super speeders” to pay for trauma care. In both proposals, those who put themselves and their health at risk would be asked to help offset the costs of that behavior. ...