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Though we are college students, we have spent over a collective decade fighting the scourge of tobacco. We all became active in tobacco prevention because we have seen firsthand how the tobacco industry fights to protect its profits over the health of Montana kids. Now, once again, Big Tobacco corporations are doing what they do best — spending millions of dollars to pedal their lies and spin — as they fight against the Healthy Montana Initiative — Initiative 185. I-185 will raise the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack, thereby saving lives, keeping people from smoking and raising needed funds to help improve health care in the state, particularly for our deserving veterans.

Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, automobile crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined — and 1,600 Montanans every year. Smoking also costs the state over $400 million in annual healthcare costs. And there are 19,000 kids alive today in Montana who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking — unless we act to change things. Supporting I-185 is the most important next step.

So why has Big Tobacco already poured more than $12 million (and counting) on ads to mislead Montanans about I-185? Because they know that a cigarette tax increase is the most effective way to reduce smoking — keeping kids from ever starting and prodding current smokers to quit. That means fewer people addicted to their deadly products — and less money for their bottom line.

Big Tobacco’s targeting of young people is nothing new. They have long known that the only way they can even stay in business is to recruit new smokers to their lethal and addictive products to replace the 480,000 people their products kill every year. An R.J. Reynolds internal document from the 1970s even disgustingly referred to young people as “replacement smokers” for exactly that purpose.

We see the old tactics employed for new products these days. E-cigarettes now come in more than 15,000 flavors, with names such as cotton candy, gummy bear, cherry crush and banana split that are clearly targeted at kids. We see slick TV commercials and print ads in magazines like Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone and Cosmo, and tobacco manufacturers sponsor sporting and music events we attend. For youth in Montana, advertising for these dangerous products is unavoidable.

Montana is a big, beautiful state — but it is not an expensive one when it comes to political advertising. So when these out-of-state tobacco corporations set a new record for ballot funding in Montana, it is a noticeable smokescreen. The industry is running scared, and rightly so.

I-185 will pay for almost 100,000 Montanans to keep their healthcare coverage. In addition, it will also help pay for suicide prevention programs for our veterans, services that help to keep senior citizens and people with disabilities in their homes and programs to keep kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

I-185 is not as complicated as Big Tobacco is trying to make it seem. Voting for I-185 means standing up to Big Tobacco, preventing young people from starting a deadly addiction and rallying around a healthier future for our state. Voting against it means more Big Tobacco profits, more tobacco-related diseases and death, increased health care costs for all and taking away the current health care that 1 in 10 Montanans currently rely on.

Join us in voting "yes" on I-185.

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This opinion is signed by Lily Kraft, of Bridger, currently studying at Rocky Mountain College in Billings; Willow Peterson of Bridger, currently a freshman at Montana State University-Billings; Phalyn Fickas, a Noxon High School graduate currently studying at Montana State University-Bozeman; and Blazz Wood, a Thompson Falls High School graduate currently studying at The University of Montana-Missoula.

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