Everyone Has a Tobacco Story: Montanans Share Theirs While Delivering I-185 Signatures

(Helena, Mont.) – Montanans personally affected by the toll of tobacco-related disease and death simultaneously delivered signatures for the Healthy Montana Initiative, I-185, at local county elections offices across the state today at noon. As of today, the Healthy Montana Initiative will have submitted approximately 40,000 signatures – 14,500 more than the required amount a full day before they are due.

The total number of verified signatures required for I-185 to be placed on the 2018 General Election ballot is 25,468. The deadline for petition signatures to be received by county election administrators is 5:00 p.m. on June 22, 2018.

From veterans to retired nurses and elementary school teachers, Montanans who have seen the personal and financial toll of smoking delivered signatures as a testament to the widespread impacts Big Tobacco has on Big Sky Country.

Here are some of their stories.

“Do I know anyone personally affected by tobacco-related diseases? Just about my whole Marine Corps League from Billings. My Dad was a World War II Veteran who served on Guadalcanal, and he was also a smoker. Even though he survived the war, emphysema was one of the things that took him at an early age. It’s ironic that the very people who served this country in all corners of the globe are dying preventable deaths here at home due to tobacco. As the volunteer AARP Montana State President, I know that for me and many of our members, now is the time in our lives to enjoy our grandkids, take that adventure, and serve our communities in new ways. But for far too many Montanans, that dream is cut short. Each year – 1,600 Montanans die from smoking. Some funds from increasing the state tax on tobacco products will go directly to veterans’ nursing homes and provide for unmet needs such as veterans suicide prevention. I-185 is a big step in the right direction.” -Al Ward, AARP Montana State President, Billings.

“It’s time to ask big tobacco corporations and smokers to pay their fair share to fight cancer and other tobacco related-diseases. The poison in tobacco products is very likely the cause of the lifelong disability I live with. As an infant, secondhand smoke shut down my lungs multiple times and sent me to the emergency room. Funding for disability services helps keep me independent, working and contributing to our local economy. I-185 will dedicate a percentage of the increased tobacco tax for Montana’s Medicaid program, veteran’s services, smoking prevention and cessation programs as well as long-term care services for seniors and people with disabilities. Big Tobacco doesn’t pay for the harm it inflicts on our families and communities. Raising tobacco taxes will help 100,000 Montanans keep their health care. It will help keep folks with disabilities in their homes.” -Justice Ender, Missoula

“Watching someone you love die from lung cancer is something no one should go through. Just like a lot of my friends’ parents, my dad smoked when he was younger. He started smoking when he was 11 years old. And just like a lot of smokers, he got lung cancer. When I was 17 years old, lung cancer took my dad’s life. It changed our whole family’s trajectory. I watched as my mother lost her husband and had to figure out how to deal with the expenses. I never got to know him as an adult. He has missed a lot, and I’ve missed having him here. I’m telling my story because I’m not alone. Tobacco-related disease is the number one cause of preventable death in Montana.” -Lois Fitzpatrick, Helena

“I taught elementary school kids for more than 30 years. If you don’t smoke and you think your kids don’t smoke, you might have convinced yourself that this issue doesn’t matter. While I was teaching, too many kids were smoking by the 6thgrade. Big Tobacco spent more than $30 million dollars in Montana in 2016 trying to convince kids to begin this lifelong habit. Right now, they’re selling e-cigarettes in candy flavors like Sweet Tarts and Gummi Bears. Raising the cigarette tax by $2 will decrease the youth smoking rate by 20% and prevent 8,000 Montana kids from becoming adult smokers.” -Marilyn Hamer, Great Falls

“My older brother was a lifelong smoker. He started when he joined the Airforce at 18 years old. He smoked his whole life. At the age of 51 he had his first heart attack. They encouraged him to quit smoking. He tried everything. He had another heart attack three years later and tried to quit again. In 2016, he had a third heart attack that took his life. He was only 58 years old. He left behind two children and two grandchildren. Our family is not alone. There are too many tobacco-related deaths in Montana. I know firsthand the pain tobacco causes, and it’s time we stand up.” -Keri Yoder, Choteau

Healthy Montana Initiative, I-185 will:

  • Finally ask big tobacco corporations and smokers to pay their fair share to fight cancer and other tobacco-related diseases. Treating tobacco-related diseases among our Medicaid recipients costs more than $81 million per year, which increases Medicaid costs.
  • Fund Medicaid for thousands of Montana families and veterans. Montanans shouldn’t be forced to decide whether they can afford life-saving care – like cancer treatment.
  • Some of the funds will go directly to veterans’ nursing homes. It would also provide for unmet needs for veterans services, including suicide prevention;
  • Support rural hospitals and clinics to ensure that they remain open for all Montanans;
  • Provide health services to help seniors and people with disabilities stay in their homes;
  • And, motivate smokers to quit and keeping kids from smoking. Every year, 400 kids in Montana become daily smokers and 1,600 of our neighbors die from smoking.

More information here:  www.healthymontana.org

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