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This fall, Montanans have the opportunity to directly and dramatically improve their quality of life. Montana ballots for the 2018 election will contain I-185, an initiative that (if approved) both enhances health care and essential support services for thousands of Montanans, and continues Montana’s anti-smoking and tobacco use prevention efforts.

By the time many Montanans have reached college age they have already been exposed to a multimillion dollar, Big Tobacco marketing campaign that is cynically designed to recruit new smokers from our youth. Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in Montana and nationwide. Tobacco kills 1,600 Montanans every year and costs businesses millions of dollars in lost productivity. Our state, and each taxpayer, pays millions in health care costs caused by addiction to tobacco products. It is time for a change.

Raising cigarette taxes by two dollars per pack can prevent some 8,000 Montanans from becoming new smokers. The higher tax will help 9,300 current smokers break their addiction, this would decrease smoking rates by as much as 20.6 percent. But Big Tobacco will oppose the new taxes with dishonest and deceptive campaigns. They are under investigation for illegally marketing to children, and now they are spending millions to deceive Montanans about I-185. Tobacco corporations have spent millions lobbying legislators to defeat tobacco taxes before, now Big Tobacco and other special interests are spending $8.8 million to defeat I-185, putting their profits ahead of the health and welfare of Montanans. We must continue our efforts to treat the smoking, chewing and vaping addictions that cause cancer and heart disease.

Part of what makes Montana the “Last Best Place” is our capacity to care for one another. That means providing public services for health care, education, community support and public safety for ALL of us; I-185 is an investment in the Last Best Place. The revenues from increased tobacco taxes can be used to invest in public health programs including Medicaid, veteran’s services, disability support, and senior services. The Montana legislature voted to expand Medicaid in 2015 with the HELP act that now provides health insurance for 90,000 Montanans. However, that coverage is due to expire in 2019. A YES vote for I-185 would continue health insurance coverage for thousands of Montanans including many children and seniors. By expanding those services, we help sustain the rural clinics and hospitals that serve small towns all across Montana.

Students at the University of Montana rely on these public services and often fall prey to Big Tobacco campaigns. While many of them are recent high school graduates, about half of them are “non-traditional”, where they may be over 24 years old, veterans, parents struggling to raise children, or they may be challenged with disabilities. Students at our Montana public universities are often low income, or “first generation” as the first in their family to get a degree. This makes I-185 essential, particularly for these university students because it is both a tobacco use prevention program and it supports public services.

Your grandchild, parent, grandparent, student or deserving veteran will absolutely benefit from the services provided by I-185. Please support I-185 by “liking” and “sharing” our HEALTHY MONTANA Facebook page and then encourage your family, friends and neighbors to join us and vote YES. We Montanans can control our fate, we can fight back against Big Tobacco to make our lives better. We can do this by voting YES for I-185 this fall, and make the future brighter for the Last Best Place.

Douglas Coffin, Ph.D., Diana Lurie, Ph.D., Richard Bridges, Ph.D, Neyooxet Greymorning, Ph.D., Christine Fiore, Ph.D., Fernando Cardozo-Pelaez, Ph.D. Sherrill Brown, DVM/PharmD, Michael Kavanaugh, Ph.D, Kerry Haney, PharmD. The signatories are professors at the University of Montana. The opinions here are personal, they do not represent University of Montana in any official capacity.

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