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The corporations that are Big Tobacco and those corporations’ surrogates know a higher tax on tobacco means fewer people using the product. That means less profit for them. This is the reason for their opposing I-185, the initiative to continue Medicaid Expansion in Montana. But Big Tobacco doesn’t say that in their ads. In their millions of dollars campaign of lies and distortion they claim to be concerned about the state budget, or veterans, or constitutionality.

These are not the concerns of tobacco corporations.

I-185 will diminish their profits. That is their concern. They are protecting profits made by a product that kills people and causes serious illnesses. (1,600 Montanans die from tobacco related disease a year.) They are spending millions to deprive people of the health care they need.

The battle is one of taking lives versus saving lives.

14 years ago, voters supported the last tobacco tax increase. Back then, Big Tobacco made the same claims about a tobacco tax initiative being unconstitutional. That argument went up in smoke, and it’s laughable today. Their claim about veterans, also lies. Veterans will receive millions of dollars in “new” funding for suicide prevention and other services, including continuing insurance for 9,500 eligible veterans and their families through Medicaid expansion. Because of Medicaid Expansion, many Montanans have health care coverage for the first time in their lives.

Is the profit margin of Big Tobacco corporations more important than nearly 100,000 Montanans having health insurance? Insurance that in many cases might be addressing the cost of health consequences caused by Big Tobacco’s addictive, dangerous product?

A new and serious threat from tobacco corporations are the nicotine vape products drawing in a new generation of revenue producers for them, our kids. Nearly a quarter of Montana’s kids use e-cigarettes, compared to 4% of adults. These products need to be recognized for the dangers they present and taxed accordingly, along with other tobacco products.

Big Tobacco’s profits pass on costs to Montana and Montana communities. Whereas tobacco related diseases cost $440 million a year in MT, Medicaid Expansion protects health while creating approximately 5,000 new jobs and 280 million dollars in personal income each year.

Millions of dollars pumped into misleading advertisements don’t change the reality that Medicaid expansion has been a success, and I-185 fully funds this vital program moving forward. Over 45,000 people have received preventive care, including over 12,000 cancer screenings averting over 2,000 cases of colon cancer and identifying 88 cases of breast cancer.

Without I-185, Montanans and their families stand to lose a great deal. Medicaid Expansion in Montana has been a success and the I-185 is how we move this vital program forward.

Vote yes to I-185.

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State Sen. Mary Caferro, a Democrat from District 41 in Helena, is chair of the Children, Families, Health and Human Services committee.

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