Tobacco addiction has taken too many lives in Montana. The Healthy Montana initiative (I-185) will raise the tax on tobacco products, keeping kids from starting a deadly addiction and helping adults who smoke quit.

As organizations focused on health, the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids are united in our support for I-185 because we know that raising the tobacco tax will help reduce smoking – the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States.

Tobacco use not only impacts health, it hurts Montana financially, too. Tobacco costs Montanans more than $440 million in health care costs each year. Whether they smoke or not, Montana households each pay $750 yearly in taxes from smoking-caused government expenditures. By reducing tobacco use, I-185 will do more than save lives; it will also reduce health care costs for all of us.

Just as importantly, the revenue from the new tax will help fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs and services, preserve Medicaid coverage for roughly 100,000 Montanans, and ensure health care access for veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income families.

Sounds like an easy call, right?

Beware, well-financed opposition from the tobacco industry who will fight to keep their billion-dollar profits a priority over our public health. Tobacco companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying politicians and making campaign contributions to defeat tobacco taxes in Montana and other states. Despite the benefits of I-185, Big Tobacco will soon inundate our state with misinformation and misleading advertisements, a typical Big Tobacco smokescreen.

We urge our fellow Montanans to support I-185 and to reject opposition ads and messages that will distort facts to protect Big Tobacco’s profits. These profits depend on addicting new tobacco users (young “replacement smokers” needed to take the place of nearly half a million people tobacco use kills every year), and keeping people hooked. When the tobacco industry’s profit margins are threatened, it pulls out a well-polished playbook to deceive voters.

Big Tobacco knows that when the price of tobacco increases significantly, more and more people quit using their deadly products and fewer children start. The stakes are high. Big Tobacco spent about $200,000 lobbying the legislature in 2017 and has already spent over $800,000 in Montana this year opposing I-185.

The truth is I-185 will prevent 4,800 premature deaths, decrease youth smoking by 20 percent and provide life-saving care for many Montanans. Let’s stand up for health by voting Yes on I-185, the Healthy Montana Initiative.

Amanda Cahill is the director of government relations for American Heart Association; Carrie Nyssen is senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association; Kristin Page-Nei is the director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; and Willow Peterson is the youth advocate for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.