Though we are college students, just entering our 20s, we have spent over a decade between us active fighting the scourge of tobacco. We both became active in tobacco prevention because we saw how the tobacco industry fought to protect its profits over the health of Montana kids like ourselves.
Now, once again, big tobacco corporations are doing what they do best – spending millions of dollars to pedal their lies and spin – as they fight against the Healthy Montana Initiative – I-185. I-185 will raise the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack, thereby saving lives, keeping people from smoking, and raising needed funds to help improve health care in the state, particularly for our deserving veterans.
Every year in Montana smoking kills 1,600 people. Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, automobile crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. Smoking also costs the state over $400 million in annual health care costs. And there are 19,000 kids alive today in Montana who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking – unless we act to change things up. Supporting I-185 is the most important next step.
Then why has Big Tobacco already poured more than $17 million (and counting) into the state on ads to mislead the public about I-185? Because they know that a significant cigarette tax increase is the most effective way to reduce smoking – keeping kids from ever starting and prodding current smokers to quit. That means fewer people addicted to their deadly products. And that means less money for their bottom line.
Big Tobacco’s targeting of young people is nothing new. They’ve done it for decades. They have long known that the only way they can even stay in business is to recruit new smokers to their deadly and addictive products to replace the nearly half a million people their products kill every year. An R.J. Reynolds internal document from the 1970s even disgustingly referred to young people as “replacement smokers” for exactly that purpose!
We see the old tactics employed for new products these days. Electronic cigarettes now come in more than 15,000 flavors, so many of them candy-flavored and with kid-friendly flavors and names such as cotton candy, gummy bear, cherry crush and banana split. We see slick TV commercials and print ads in magazines we read like Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone and Cosmo. And the manufacturers sponsor sporting and music events we attend. The images of these dangerous products are everywhere for young people to soak in.
Overall, tobacco corporations spend $9.5 billion dollars every year to market their products. In Montana, that means they spend an estimated $30 million every year to push their deadly goods on us.
Montana is a big beautiful state – but it’s not an expensive one when it comes to political advertising. So when these out-of-state tobacco corporations pour over $8 million into the state by early September it’s a noticeable smokescreen. The industry is running scared, and rightly so. The public supports increasing tobacco taxes because people know that it will reduce smoking especially among kids. And it will raise money we can use for good purposes like increasing funding for veterans services including suicide prevention.
I-185 will pay for almost 100,000 Montanans to keep their health care coverage. It will also help pay for suicide prevention programs for our veterans, services that try to keep senior citizens and people with disabilities in their homes, and programs to keep kids from smoking and help smokers quit. I-185 is not as complicated as big tobacco is working so hard to make it.
Voting for I-185 means standing up to big tobacco, preventing young people from starting a deadly habit and rallying around a healthier future for our state. Voting against it means more tobacco profits, more tobacco-related disease, increased health care costs for all and taking away the current health care that 1 in 10 Montanans are currently rely on. Join us in voting yes on I-185.
Lily Kraft, Bridger, is a student at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. Willow Peterson is from From Bridger is a freshman at Montana State University-Billings. Phalyn Fickas is a Noxon High School graduate studying at Montana State University-Bozeman. Blazz Wood is a Thompson Falls High School graduate studying at the University of Montana-Missoula.