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Tobacco Firms Accused of Unfair Play with Ballot Lawsuit

HELENA, Mont. -- Sponsors of an initiative to raise the cigarette tax and use some money for health care on Tuesday accused tobacco companies of using "the same dirty tricks" in suing to keep it off the ballot, reported the Billings, Mont.-based Gazette State Bureau.

"Big tobacco has once again shown that when it comes to peddling their deadly product, they will do anything to make sure they hook our kids," said Dr. Richard Sargent, treasurer of Healthy Kids Healthy Montana, the group that drafted Initiative 149.

Montanans support increasing tobacco taxes to prevent kids from smoking and using some of the money for the Children's Health Insurance Program, prescription drugs and insurance for small businesses, Sargent said.

"Big tobacco has a history of using front groups, misleading information and their deep pockets to prevent public health measures such as I-149," he said.

On Monday, veterans' groups, tobacco wholesalers, convenience stores and some tobacco companies asked a Helena district judge to remove I-149 from the November ballot as unconstitutional. Leaders of veterans' groups said its passage might jeopardize the current funding of state veterans' nursing homes.

Among the plaintiffs are R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. While not a plaintiff, Philip Morris USA helped pay for the lawsuit.

The measure's opponents contend that its statements of purpose and implication and fiscal statement are biased in favor of the measure. They also contended I-149 is unconstitutional because it appropriates money, which is a responsibility reserved for the legislature, and contains multiple subjects.

Sargent said I-149 backers crafted the ballot measure to meet all of Montana's legal and technical requirements and it was reviewed by the attorney general's office and approved by the secretary of state's office.

I-149 would more than double the state tax on cigarettes to $1.70 a pack from the current 70 cents and boost taxes on other tobacco products by similar margins.
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