Anti-Tobacco ‘Truth’ Campaign is Threatened by Dwindling Funds
By: Makebra M. Anderson
NNPA, National Correspondent
Originally posted 2/28/2005
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – It’s hard to forget those hard-hitting anti-tobacco television spots produced by young people as part of their truth® campaign. One such commercial shows a group of kids marching down a crowded New York City street carrying a flag pole. The group stops in front of a tobacco company with the American flag flying at half mast.
“After a tragedy, America flies flags at half mast, which is why we’re here in front of this tobacco company,” the kid says on a bullhorn, while people on the street stop to watch. “It’s out of respect for the 1,200 people killed by their products everyday.”
He continues. “So, we have a question for the folks in this tobacco company. Shouldn’t you lower your flag? I mean, they were your loyal customers.”
Seven years ago, a landmark settlement required tobacco companies to fund efforts that would reduce smoking among youth and teens and educate them on the hazards of tobacco. The final payment was made in 2003 by tobacco companies Phillip Morris (Altria), Brown and Williamson, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard. Now, the 5-year-old truth® anti-smoking youth campaign might come to an end.
“Because of the terms of the agreement, we can’t lobby ourselves,” explains Cheryl Healton, president of the American Legacy Foundation, the group responsible for the truth® campaign. “We are already cutting programs left and right and making annual reductions to the truth® campaign. Because tobacco companies spend $12 million a year in advertising, I think this has the potential to diminish our effect.”
In 1998, a Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) was reached between attorney generals in 46 states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. The group filed suits against the tobacco industry seeking compensation for the millions of dollars it had lost on tobacco-related illnesses. The Washington-based American Legacy Foundation was established in 1999 under the MSA. The group developed national programs, such as truth® campaign, that delivers disturbing facts about tobacco and industry’s marketing practices.
In an unprecedented show of support, every former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (and its forerunner agency, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare), every former U.S. Surgeon General and every former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have expressed support for the truth® campaign and the continuing need to reduce youth smoking.
“Ending smoking by American children and teens is crucial to the health of our nation,” Dr. Louis Sullivan, president emeritus of the Morehouse School of Medicine and Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush, says in a statement. “Raising the price of cigarettes has not been enough. Warning vendors not to sell cigarettes to minors has not been enough. Prohibiting tobacco companies from advertising to children has not been enough. That is why it is imperative that children stop wanting cigarettes. And the American Legacy Foundation’s truth® campaign convinces kids to reject tobacco.”
The top federal health officials formed the Citizens Commission to Protect the Truth in an effort to persuade tobacco companies to continue financing the Public Education Fund, which provides the money used to sponsor the truth® campaign.
“Ending funding for the truth® campaign is a death sentence for hundreds of thousands of children,” says Joseph Califano, chairman of the commission and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. “This is nearly double the number of U.S. fatalities suffered during the entire Vietnam War.”
According to the Commission, the truth® youth anti-smoking campaign has the potential to save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in smoking-related healthcare costs.
“It’s time for tobacco companies to end their quest for children and teens to replace their dead and disabled adult smokers,” Califano says. “If the words of tobacco executives about not pushing their addictive drug on children are worth more than the paper that wraps their cigarettes, they should legally bind themselves to put their resources behind their rhetoric and support the truth® campaign.”
A study published in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health shows that truth® accelerated the decline in youth smoking rates between 2000 and 2002. The group also notes that there has been a 22 percent decline in youth smoking, much of it attributed directly to the truth® campaign. The journal notes that there were approximately 300,000 fewer youth smokers in 2002.
“The ‘truth’ campaign was associated with significant declines in youth smoking prevalence; thus, its approach to appeal to youth with hard-hitting ads that show at-risk youths rejecting tobacco and that reveal deceptive tobacco industry marketing tactics appears to be effective,” the report says.
It continues, “The MTF [Monitoring the Future] data showed a large decline in current youth smoking prevalence overall and for each grade between 1997 and 2002. The descriptive MTF data also indicated that the decline in current smoking prevalence accelerated after the launch of the [truth®] campaign between 2000 and 2002. The annual percentage decline for all grades was 3.2 percent before the [truth®] campaign launch compared with 6.8 percent after the campaign launch.”
Healton, CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, is not surprised by the findings.
“The truth® campaign has made a significant impact in reducing youth smoking rates in the United States. The study findings are consistent with previous studies, which demonstrate that effective smoking prevention campaigns are critical to the public health of this nation and that their elimination will likely reverse gains that have been made in reducing youth smoking.”
Every day more than 4,000 youth between 12 and 17 have their first cigarette, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Among all smokers, approximately 80 percent of them started smoking as a teenager.
According to the CDC, 45,000 African-Americans die each year from smoking-related illnesses. Moreover, 1.6 million Blacks under the age of 18 will become regular smokers and about a third of those – 500,000 – will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease such as cancer, heart disease and pulmonary disorders.
Last year, the American Legacy Foundation awarded a $4.5 million, three-year grant to a coalition of six national African-American organizations – the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation, the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the National Conference of Black Mayors and the National Association of Neighborhoods – to help curb tobacco use among African-Americans.
American Legacy Foundation wants to prevent young people from every taking up the habit of smoking.
“The truth® campaign has performed an immeasurable service in encouraging the decline of smoking among youth,” Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association said. “Every day, thousands of children jeopardize their health by becoming smokers, and more lives will be imperiled if we do not continue to educate teens about the deadly risks of smoking. The truth® campaign undoubtedly plays a crucial part in changing the attitudes of young people toward smoking…By preventing this hazardous behavior, we may further ensure that today’s young people will be healthier adults.”
The truth® campaign is the largest independent national youth smoking prevention campaign. It was launched in 2000 and uses graphic images, creative commercials and industry facts to help students make up their mind about tobacco use.
And the director of the CDC, Dr. Julie Gerberding, would like to see the campaign continued.
“More and more teens are choosing health by not smoking, and that is absolutely terrific news,” she says. “Still, over 4 million teens in the U.S. are smoking cigarettes, so it’s important for campaigns that work, such as truth® to continue, so we don’t lose the valuable momentum we’ve gained to date in the fight against smoking.”