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We have seen much campaigning both for, and against, Initiative 185, the tobacco tax. I would like to share my perspective as a critical access hospital administrator who is also responsible for the oversight of public health services in Carbon County.

I-185 is a tax on all tobacco products — cigarettes, chew, e-cigs and vaping products. Cigarette companies (Big Tobacco) are spending millions of dollars to skew the facts and protect their industry. Tobacco products harm humans with no regard to age. Today it’s more affordable to buy vaping products than cigarettes, since our current state tobacco tax, passed in 2004, does not cover e-cigarettes and vaping products.

These vaping products are being marketed to our youth in cartoon packaging and nicotine-laced gummy bears. We’re seeing the early impact of vaping products being used by our citizens as young as the fifth grade and this, to me, is completely unacceptable. Vaping products are not taxed; they’re easy to secure. Sales for these products have increased by 700 percent in the past year. This is unacceptable. We need to get out in front of this and make a difference. I don’t believe there’s any tobacco addict in Montana that would support or say this is a good future for our children.

Tobacco tax increases are one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking and other tobacco use, especially among kids. We have to rely on our common sense. I hope that you will vote yes on I-185 to help us save lives and promote healthy living. Taxing these products can, and will, deter their use by our youth.

Monies from the tobacco tax will fund and prevent the loss of Medicaid coverage for nearly 100,000 Montanans — veterans, elderly, low income and the disabled — funding which is scheduled to end in 2019 if I-185 doesn’t pass.

Hospitals across Montana support I-185. These aren’t profit-seeking corporations; these hospitals are our communities’ safety net. Beartooth Billings Clinic provided $6.8 million in uncompensated care in 2018. Medicaid expansion offers some reimbursement, but it does not cover all costs. However, it does help our patients receive increased access to important and life-saving preventive care and screenings.

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All hospitals in Montana face the same question, how do we maintain our services and availability? Every Montana hospital has community members on their governing boards. Ask those volunteer board members about uncompensated care and they will tell you that no one is making a profit on Medicaid expansion. Big tobacco companies are making a profit every day on sales that ultimately contribute to declining health and increased need for health care.

Hospitals are the largest employer in most communities across Montana. We represent a vital role in our economy and offer jobs that allow our children to stay in our state. Drive into any rural community at 3 a.m. and check who is available to help you. Our law enforcement and health care providers are available, 24/7. When you have chest pain at 3 a.m., where will you go? You trust your local hospital with your lives every day — please trust us now.

Please vote yes for I-185.

 

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Kelley Evans is the CEO for Beartooth Billings Clinic in Red Lodge.

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