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As health care organizations, St. Vincent Healthcare and Billings Clinic are committed to the health of our patients, our communities and the people of Montana. Our fellow Montanans will soon vote on an important initiative this fall, called Initiative 185, which represents a powerful opportunity to make a real change in the health and well-being of people across our state.

We encourage you to vote “Yes” on I-185 to help Montanans keep their health insurance and prevent tobacco use across the state.

Every year, the lives of 1,600 Montanans are lost directly as a result of cigarette use, and 28 percent of all cancer deaths are caused by smoking. Even more startling is the reality that there are 19,000 kids in our state under the age of 18 who will die prematurely as a result of smoking cigarettes—and countless more due to other tobacco-related causes.

Smoking and tobacco use also have other impacts on families in our state and right here in our community. Studies show that every household pays more than $700 a year in extra taxes to cover costs related to smoking—and Montanans pay more than $440 million in tobacco-related health costs. Montana businesses are also not immune; more than $1 million is lost every day in lost productivity tied to smoking.

Despite a multitude of efforts to stem cigarette smoking and tobacco usage, the reality is that more needs to be done. I-185 is an important step in the right direction.

If approved, I-185 will increase taxes not only on cigarettes, but also on other tobacco products and smoking-related items such as e-cigarettes and vaping liquids. Only those who choose to use these products will be subject to the tax, and a portion of funds raised will pay for smoking cessation and smoking prevention programs for adults and youth.

How else does I-185 affect Montanans? It will help 100,000 Montanans keep their critically needed health care coverage. Many of these are people who are working hard to make ends meet and are otherwise unable to afford insurance. Their ability to have health care coverage helps to ensure that they have access to high-quality health care, including the preventative care that so many take for granted.

Additionally, it would prevent an estimated 4,800 premature deaths, decrease youth smoking rates by more than 20 percent, prevent 8,000 Montana kids from becoming smokers and help 9,300 adults quit smoking.

What about the other tax dollars I-185 will generate? A portion will go to help our veterans, Montana seniors and those with disabilities.

St. Vincent Healthcare and Billings Clinic are proud to join health care organizations across Montana in supporting I-185. Voting yes to I-185 is voting for the health of all Montanans.

Steve Loveless is President of St. Vincent Healthcare and Dr. Randall Gibb, is the chief executive officer for Billings Clinic. 

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