Letter to the Editor

Stand up to Big Tobacco, vote “yes” on I-185
Thursday, October 25, 2018

Out-of-state tobacco corporations have spent $17.5 million dollars (shattering the record for out-of-state spending on a citizens’ initiative) on lobbying politicians and deceptive ads to defeat tobacco taxes in Montana, and they are up to their old tricks with I-185.

I am a father and a healthcare professional committed to improving the health of Stillwater County, and I am voting ‘yes’ on I-185 to stand up to Big Tobacco and provide much needed funding for health services in our state. Montanans have stood up to Big Tobacco in the past, and we can do it again.

In 2004, Montanans passed a citizens’ initiative to raise the tax on tobacco and dedicate the new revenue in the same way that I-185 proposes: to health services, veterans’ care and the general fund. A state district court upheld that initiative, which was passed by more than 64 percent of voters.

Nothing in I-185 keeps Montana politicians from doing their jobs. Tobacco corporations recognize that. They are paying for the spread of misinformation and lies about I-185, because they recognize the facts aren’t on their side.

Here’s the truth: I-185 raises the state tax on tobacco products, including currently untaxed electronic smoking devices. These are the same candy-flavored products showing up in our schools and homes, and are becoming increasingly harder to detect because of their deceptive, kid-friendly designs.

The roughly $72 million in new money raised through the tobacco tax will provide all the funding that is needed to keep health coverage for 100,000 Montanans, and boost services for Montana veterans, seniors and individuals with disabilities. Taxpayers who don’t use tobacco, don’t pay a dime.

And, all Montanans benefit. I-185 will save lives and reduce the toll of cancer and heart disease on our health and economy. Right now, every Montana household pays nearly $800 extra in taxes annually to help cover the cost of smoking.

In addition, smoking costs Montana businesses $368.9 million annually in lost productivity.

The Billings Chamber of Commerce and several other local Chambers endorse I-185, along with Montana doctors, nurses and other health care workers who recognize that access to care is on the line.

Without I-185, 1 in 10 Montanans stand to lose their Medicaid coverage in 2019. This includes thousands of families, veterans and seniors who are not yet eligible for Medicare.

We know that Medicaid expansion is a bipartisan success adding jobs and more than $240 million in personal income in our hometowns.

It has also resulted in state savings of more than $40 million. Research by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that the workforce and employment services training through Montana’s Medicaid expansion is responsible for a 6 to 9 percent increase in labor force participation among low-income Montanans.

Join me in clearing the smoke around I-185 by voting ‘yes’ for Stillwater County kids and families.


Dave Ryerse

CEO Stillwater Billings Clinic