Friday, June 01, 2007

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Misusing Youth Advocates for Political Purposes, and Asking Constituents to Pay for their Political Training

In a message sent to its constituents, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is asking public health advocates to financially support its "training" of youth anti-tobacco advocates.

But when you read through to the bottom line, you find out that the training is in fact more like brainwashing. It is a one-sided recruitment of these youth advocates to lobby for the proposed FDA tobacco legislation - a bill that is strongly supported by Philip Morris. There is no indication that the youth advocates are given any choice other than to support the legislation, nor that they are given the opportunity to join hundreds of tobacco control and public health advocates throughout the nation in a campaign to vigorously oppose this legislation.

The funds to support these advocates are begin solicited under the guise of training these young people how to get rid of cigarette advertising in magazines. The solicitation message states:

"Vogue apparently doesn't care that 178,000 women die every year due to lung cancer and other smoking-related disease. Their latest response to your faxes about "light and luscious" Camel No. 9s -- "Could you stop? You're killing trees." R.J. Reynolds doesn't care either. Death is literally being marketed - and sold - to our daughters, mothers, and sisters through Camel No.9 ad campaigns. That's why our Youth Advocates of the Year - the YAYAs - are taking the fight against Big Tobacco and Camel No.9 straight to Washington, DC. Will you help the YAYAs wage this most important battle on Capitol Hill and sponsor their training at this summer's Youth Advocacy Symposium? At the six-day symposium, YAYAs from across the country will learn how to lobby our nation's lawmakers for passage of life-saving FDA legislation that will spell the end for pretty and pink Camel No.9 ads and other sinister marketing that attracts youth. ... Your gift will give the YAYAs the tools and training they need to influence lawmakers and impact life-saving FDA legislation."

If you click on the link to donate money, you are directed to a web page which states: "Youth are the very best advocates for their own tobacco-free futures. Please help our Youth Advocates of the Year - the YAYAs - fight back against marketing ploys like Camel No.9 that threaten to lure kids and teens into a lifetime of addiction, disease and death. Your gift today to the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund will provide critical advocacy training to the YAYAs at the Youth Advocacy Symposium this summer. With your help, we can give these dedicated young people the tools they need to meet our nation's lawmakers and fight for the passage of life-saving FDA legislation."

You are then invited to contribute $25 per each hour of training you wish to cover for a youth advocate.

The Rest of the Story

What should be made very clear is that this is not public health training. Nor is it even really primarily youth advocacy training. What it is, most ostensibly, is simply a sleazy tactic on the part of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to indoctrinate youth leaders with their philosophy and use these young people --taking advantage of them -- to do its bidding on Capitol Hill.

Why do I say that it is not public health training? Because true public health training would teach these young people how to analyze a public health problem and come up with their own analysis of a public policy proposal designed to address the problem. Thus, such a training could never be couched in terms of using these young people to fight for the FDA legislation. It would have to, instead, be couched as giving them the tools to analyze the legislation and then to make their own determination as to the appropriate action. For some of these youths, it is quite possible they would conclude that the FDA legislation is not an effective way of protecting the public's health.

If part of the training is lobbying for the FDA legislation, then youths are apparently not being given the opportunity to make their own decisions about whether to support or oppose Philip Morris. They are essentially given no choice but to help Philip Morris do its legislative bidding. That seems to run counter to what most youths would intuitively believe. Thus, it likely goes against most young people's thinking. But the training apparently is not so much of a training as it is an indoctrination. An indoctrination into supporting this singular view of tobacco control policy and learning how to support it. Not questioning it or making your own mind up about it.

This is why I say that it basically amounts to brainwashing. It is a systematic indoctrination. It essentially forces a youth to go against what would almost universally be a gut feeling of standing against the nation's leading cigarette company.

I could just as easily run a youth advocacy training and train young people to fight against the FDA legislation. But I wouldn't do that. The reason I wouldn't do that is because I have some ethical principles. I wouldn't use young people in that way. I would allow them to make their own informed decision about the legislation. If I were not prepared for them to take the opposite viewpoint, then I would not offer such a training.

What the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is doing is not education, it's indoctrination.

I find it unethical and as such, it taints the perceived integrity of every one of us in tobacco control. Shame on the Campaign for doing that to us.

If the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids wishes to promote the FDA legislation, it is free to do that. But to use young people -- youth advocates -- as pawns in their political game is completely inappropriate.

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