The Montana Secretary of State this week officially certified a ballot initiative that, among other things, would fund tobacco cessation programs and prevent the loss of Medicaid coverage for 100,000 Montanans, supporters say.

Voters will see the Healthy Montana Initiative, or I-185, on the November ballot.

“Montanans are picking up the bill for rising health care costs caused by Big Tobacco and their deadly products,” said Amanda Cahill, the Montana government relations director for the American Heart Association. “Montanans across the state will get to stand up for a healthier future against the multinational tobacco corporations that have spent millions of dollars influencing our elections.”

Supporters of the campaign said Montanans affected by tobacco-related disease and death delivered more than 40,000 signatures in June to increase the tobacco tax, a move aimed at preventing the loss of health care services for thousands of Montana families and veterans.

Supporters say the initiative will ask big tobacco corporations to pay their share to fight cancer and other tobacco-related diseases. Tobacco-related diseases cost Montana taxpayers more than $81 million per year in increased Medicaid costs alone, supporters claim.

“In Montana, more than 28 percent of cancer deaths are caused by smoking,” said Kristin Page-Nei, the American Cancer Society's government relations director in Montana. “I-185 would prevent an estimated 8,000 Montana kids from smoking, which would amount to youth smoking rates dropping more than 20 percent.”

Montana last increased the tobacco tax in 2004 when citizens voted to increase the cigarette tax to $1.70 per pack. Advocates claim that increasing the state tax on tobacco would prevent 4,800 premature deaths from smoking and help 9,300 adults quit smoking.

It would also reduce annual health care expenditures directly caused by tobacco, which amount to $440 million each year in Montana – $779 each year for every Montana household, supporters claim.