Each year in Montana, 400 children become addicted to tobacco. Tobacco companies use new products like e-cigarettes and vaping to target children, and hook the next generation of kids on nicotine. Last year alone, Big Tobacco spent $30 million in Montana to market to our kids.
As a doctor, I see the devastating effects of tobacco on almost a daily basis. Lung cancer, heart disease, COPD, peripheral vascular disease – the list goes on. Tobacco kills 1,600 Montanans every year. And, we all pay the price for this addiction. In addition to losing members of our families and communities, tobacco costs our state more than $440 million in healthcare costs each year.
This November, voters in Montana have an opportunity to save lives. Initiative 185, the Healthy Montana Initiative, will add a $2 tax to cigarettes, and add a similar tax to other tobacco-related products. The tax is estimated to decrease youth smoking by 20 percent, and save 4,900 lives.
Money from the new tax will go to fund several important health projects in Montana. These projects include suicide prevention for veterans, services to help keep seniors independent in their homes, tobacco cessation programs, and health insurance for more than 96,000 Montanans.
As expected, Big Tobacco will resort to anything to stop the initiative. Listen closely to their negative ads on I-185, and you’ll notice something very peculiar – they never mention the word “tobacco.”
Instead, they try to scare voters with misleading statements about how the money will be spent. But, what do you expect from the industry that has been lying to us for decades about their deadly product?
Here’s the truth. The Montana Office of Budget and Program Planning found that I-185 is revenue neutral – unless you’re a smoker, it doesn’t add a penny to your taxes. There is no “unfunded mandate,” or excess for taxpayers to pay – that’s something Big Tobacco says to gain a new generation of nicotine-addicted users. Don’t let your children be one of them.
What I-185 does do is save thousands of lives and fund vital programs for Montanans. That’s why groups like the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, the Montana Medical Society and AARP have all endorsed I-185.
Join me in casting a vote for Montana’s children and against Big Tobacco. Let’s provide essential service for Montanans and save our kids from a lifetime of addiction. Vote “yes” on I-185.
Jason Cohen, MD, is the chief medical officer at North Valley Hospital.