Local Youth Joined Effort to Expose Big Tobacco’s Lies during Altria’s Shareholder Meeting

Mobilizing Against Tobacco Lies Virtual Event (#MATL2021) to Tell the Truth About Tobacco Use and the Industry’s Marketing Tactics

Syracuse, NY – June 1, 2021 – This past week, Reality Check youth leaders from Onondaga and Cayuga Counties joined more than 300 other youth from around New York State, as well as Nebraska, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Arkansas, Delaware, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Idaho to challenge Altria Group executives and shareholders for the sixth consecutive year on the tobacco lies they use to sell their products. Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, is one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco and electronic cigarette products.

Reality Check is a statewide youth program that is part of Tobacco-Free CNY and works to engage and educate local stakeholders, community leaders, and the public to strengthen tobacco and e-cigarette policies that prevent and reduce tobacco and vape use. This program, implemented by the Onondaga County Health Department in CNY, focuses on reducing youth exposure to harmful tobacco and e-cigarette marketing in retail settings, limiting exposure to secondhand smoke, and reducing smoking imagery in the media.

In prior years, the youth physically gathered outside the Altria Shareholder’s Meeting in Richmond, VA. This year, the youth took their action online, using social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok to raise their voices. Their goal was to engage others by revealing the truth about the commercial tobacco industry including the way it produces, manufactures, markets, and promotes its deadly products. As youth, they have the power to change the social norms created by Big Tobacco and celebrate our collaborative achievements.

The Seven Truths the youth used to challenge the statements of the tobacco companies are:

  • Menthol is a flavor, and flavors in tobacco products appeal to youth
  • Minority populations have been targeted by the tobacco industry for decades
  • Tobacco products are harmful to the environment and are the number one littered item in the world
  • E-cigarettes and vaping are not healthy
  • The tobacco industry values profit over people
  • The tobacco industry often opposes tobacco regulation
  • Nicotine is addictive – no matter how it is ingested

Studies show that kids who shop in stores with tobacco marketing two or more times a week are 64% more likely to start smoking than their friends who don’t shop where tobacco is marketed.

In preparation for the virtual demonstration on Thursday, May 20, Reality Check youth spent the last month learning about tobacco control policies, how the tobacco industry contracts with retailers to get their products and messages in front of youth audiences, and how they can stand up, speak out and make a difference in the fight against Big Tobacco.

Virtual speakers and trainers included youth leaders from Dover Youth 2 Youth of Dover, NH and Counter Tools of Chapel Hill, NC, Nicole Sutton, tobacco control expert from the University of Southern Florida, and Michael Scott from The Center of Black Health & Equity.

The New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Tobacco Control funds Tobacco-Free CNY to increase support for New York State’s tobacco-free norm through youth action and community engagement. Efforts are evidence-based, policy-driven, and cost-effective approaches that decrease youth tobacco use, motivate adult smokers to quit, and eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke. For more information about Reality Check, visit realitycheckofny.org.

1. Henriksen, Schleicher, Feiughery and Fortmann. Pediatrics: The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. July 19, 2010, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009 3021