Tobacco-tax measure a good plan

Choteau Acantha Editorial 

A coalition of health and healthcare groups is asking Montana voters to sign a petition to put a measure on the November general election ballot that would raise state taxes on tobacco and use part of the new revenue to continue providing expanded Medicaid services for 94,000 low-income adults.

We are encouraging people to sign this petition as the organizers of the signature drive need 25,468 voters in one third of the state’s legislative districts (34) to sign the petition by June 22 to get the measure on the ballot.

Initiative 185 would increase state taxes on all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes and all vaping products, according to If passed, the measure would increase taxes on a pack of cigarettes by $2, raising the total to $3.70 in taxes. Taxes on chewing tobacco would go up either 83 percent of the wholesale price or $3.70 per 1.2 ounces, whichever is more, according to Taxes for electronic cigarettes and vaping produces would be raised by 33 percent of the wholesale price.

The measure would also prevent Montana’s expanded Medicaid program from expiring in July 2019. That program allows adults who don’t have children and who earn about $16,600 a year (up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level) to get health insurance through Medicaid.

The federal government pays 95 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion, but in 2020 that amount will drop to 90 percent. Organizers say the new tobacco taxes would raise about $50 million a year in new revenue for the state. I-185 would earmark $26 million in revenue from the higher taxes to help the state pay its rising share of expanded Medicaid costs.

I-185 would use the rest of the new revenue to help fund veterans’ services, smoking prevention and cessation programs and long-term care services for seniors and people with disabilities, according to

One of the organizers, Kristin Nei of the American Cancer Society/Cancer Action Network, told, “This is just a very important ballot initiative. It’s the one on the ballot that can save lives, save money and significantly improve the health of Montana. … We’re going to prevent kids from smoking, help people quit, and that will result in quite a bit of reduction in health-care costs, due to tobacco use.”

We agree with Nei’s assessment of I-185. This ballot measure would raise revenue to help continue to provide critical health insurance to Montana’s lower-income adults. These are the people we work with and see every day. They are bank tellers, grocery store and convenience store clerks, service station attendants, farm and ranch laborers, some school employees, and many others who work full-time for businesses that don’t provide health insurance benefits, but do not earn enough to afford their own private medical insurance.

The state has been dealing with all sorts of budget problems over the past year and it does not have the revenue on board to pay the additional costs of expanded Medicaid. This ballot measure is a reasonable way to raise additional funds to keep this vital program. We encourage voters to sign the petition, get this measure on the ballot and then support it in the voting booth in November.