Thursday, February 16, 2006

American Legacy Foundation Partners Bringing Glamorous Tobacco Messages to America's Young People

According to the American Legacy Foundation, which reports to be trying to "build a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit," the Foundation is concerned about tobacco industry methods "of attracting new smokers" because this "will undermine the significant achievements the public health community has made in reducing smoking rates among young people."

In particular, Legacy is concerned because "After cigarettes, cigars are the most commonly used tobacco product. Twelve percent of high school students and 6 percent of middle school students report current cigar use." Legacy is also concerned, apparently, because "cigar smokers and smokeless tobacco users face an increased risk of death compared with people who do not use any tobacco products."

Legacy also specifically bemoans the fact that "teens are still exposed to tobacco ads nearly as often as young adults are, and awareness levels among all groups are still considerable" and concludes that "Given the strong, accumulated evidence documenting the effect of cigarette advertising on youth smoking behavior, these data are cause for concern. ... Our results highlight the inadequacy of current advertising restrictions to protect youth from persuasive messages that may cause them to experiment with cigarette smoking. ... these findings warrant a heightened level of vigilance over the channels through which the tobacco industry targets teens and young adults."

The Rest of the Story

One of the major methods by which "the tobacco industry targets teens and young adults" is through advertising in magazines with high numbers of youth and young adult readers. And some of the most important magazines which carry those ads to youths and young adults are Sports Illustrated, Popular Mechanics, Esquire, and Cosmopolitan.

These magazines are published by Time Inc. and by the Hearst Corporation.

But that's not the rest of the story.

The rest of the story is that the American Legacy Foundation has established a series of corporate partnerships with companies that it claims are "standing as leaders in this important movement."

And two of these partnerships are with...

...Time Warner and the Hearst Corporation.

So let's look at what these "leaders" in the tobacco control movement that Legacy has courted are doing, just through the current issues of the above magazines, to
  • help improve the health of our nation's youths and young adults;
  • to build a world where young people can reject tobacco;
  • to address the problem of cigar and smokeless tobacco use; and
  • to address the problem of bombardment of young people with pro-tobacco messages in magazines:
Time Inc.'s contribution, through its 2006 Swimsuit Issue (please do not follow that link now - you may not decide to come back), is:
  • A full-page smokeless tobacco ad for Timber Wolf wintergreen and Skoal, offering a free can of Timber Wolf, opposite a rear-view picture of model Yamila Diaz-Rahi in a rather skimpy white Calvin Klein swimsuit (if you can call it that); and
  • A full-page Kool (Be Bold. Be True) ad featuring a topless female with a large serpentine tattoo covering most of her back, opposite a nearly full-page "spread" of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue perennial Elle Macpherson.
The Hearst Corporation's contribution is:
  • Through Popular Mechanics, a full-page Skoal wintergreen ad ("Sometimes the perfect pinch is a pouch") and a full-page Copenhagen ad ("Copenhagen pouches. Made for the great indoors"). This ad shows a man at a bar, and suggests that smokeless tobacco is a great alternative for smokers who cannot smoke because of bar smoking bans;
  • Through Esquire, a full-page cigar ad; and
  • Through Cosmopolitan, a full-page Camel ad featuring an African-American trumpet player holding a Kool cigarette ("Be Authentic. Be True"), opposite actor Terrence Howard telling girls "Women want the same thing that men want -- to be happy and appreciated." I'd have to say that I agree with that. Charmingly, Howard "played a pimp wit a heart of gold in Hustle and Flow," and the bravest thing he says he's ever done is "getting naked on-set" in Get Rich or Die Tryin'. This ad actually precedes by a few pages the illuminating article on "60 Sexy Surprises."
If you want to talk about shooting yourself in the foot, this is it. And if you want to talk about hypocrisy, this is it as well.

I have to tell you that I mentioned Legacy's corporate partnerships yesterday in my public health advocacy class and the students' jaws practically dropped off. They simply could not believe that a public health organization, much less a tobacco control organization dedicated to building a world where young people can reject tobacco, would forge a corporate partnership with the very companies that are responsible for delivering glamorous pro-smoking messages to millions of boys, girls, and young men and women throughout the nation.

I had to show the students Legacy's website to prove to them that this is a true story, not something I was making up to illustrate a point.

While I had intended on discussing this for a couple of minutes, simply to make a point about how one has to be careful in building a public health organization and even in building partnerships, because very often the partners that one obtains can severely limit or undermine the organization's ability to carry out its mission effectively, this turned into an hour-long discussion, with the students leaving the classroom boggled as to how and why a major tobacco control organization could and would do such a thing.

It really does undermine not only the work that Legacy needs to do, but the work of the rest of the tobacco control community.

For example, the American Legacy Foundation has forged a partnership with Girls, Inc., "a national nonprofit youth organization dedicated to inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold."

How can Legacy on the one hand, partner with an organization that is teaching girls how to be bold and resist tobacco advertising and on the other hand, partner with an organization that is carrying messages to teach girls that smoking Kool cigarettes is the way to "Be Bold and Be True" that smoking Kools is the way to "Be Authentic and Be True" and that smoking Camels is jazzy, sexy, glamorous, and fashionable?

I think that for its own effectiveness, as well as to eliminate this awkward and ridiculous hypocrisy and to eliminate the tremendous undermining of efforts of the rest of the tobacco control community, Legacy has got to rescind its corporate partnerships with these companies.

Doing so would send a strong message that the American Legacy Foundation actually believes and will act on the "rhetoric" it is putting out, that the Foundation has some basic principles and will stand up for them, that money and funding is not the be-all and end-all and does not supercede integrity, and that in order to be included as a leader in the tobacco control movement, you simply cannot expose millions of youths to glamorous, sexy, appealing, and effective tobacco advertising, no matter how many ads for the Legacy Foundation you may agree to carry.

In fact, rescinding these partnerships would serve as a strong and effective intervention and message in itself. The media attention it would garner would do more to get the message out there about the exposure of youths and young people to tobacco advertising and the need to address these problems than anything else I can imagine Legacy doing.

I think it's "Time" for Legacy to stand up for something. It's certainly stood up for what it believes in the courtroom, fighting for the principle of being able to tell the truth about what cigarette companies are doing. And it stood up to Philip Morris initially, when the company was attempting to prevent it from airing hard-hitting ads.

Now it's time for Legacy to stand up to itself.

This is the right thing to do, and the time is now.

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