Anti-smoking group confronts big tobacco

by Peter Johnson

In the wake of Minnesota’s historic tobacco settlement, many attitudes regarding “big tobacco” have become more militant and hostile.
Anti-tobacco groups have adopted an increasingly confrontational attitude, directly targeting tobacco companies in an effort to expose manipulative and illegal marketing tactics.
Groups, such as Florida-based “The Truth,” have used television to directly confront tobacco companies, often exposing statistics highlighting the harms of smoking.
Minnesota has been prominent in this new movement, mostly through Target Market, a teen-based organization. Their television ads, which say “thank you” to big tobacco, show kids directly attacking companies like Phillip Morris and Brown & Williamson.
Target Market was formed April 2 at the Kick Ash Bash, an assembly of 400 kids who met to discuss the effect of big tobacco on their lives.
Andy Berndt, a youth activist and incoming University freshman, described Target Market as “a generation of kids going against big tobacco, teaching kids what big tobacco is all about, about the lies and manipulation and the extent the tobacco industry will go to snag kids.”
“We’ve got teens involved from International Falls to Spring Valley. A lot of them are recruiting their friends into the movement and holding local chapter meetings,” said Diana Harvey, the group’s spokeswoman.
Target Market is indirectly funded by tobacco companies, as a result of the $6.1 billion settlement with the state of Minnesota.
“We got $6.1 billion — $435 million of that was set aside for tobacco prevention,” Berndt said. “It was put into an endowment, and we got $25 million of that.”
The irony has not been lost on Target Market members.
“I think it’s a great use of their money,” Harvey said. “To educate teens about the manipulation with the end goal of stopping the increasing tide of the teen smoking rate.”
What makes Target Market different from past anti-smoking groups involves the members’ attitudes and tactics.
“So much of the (anti-tobacco movement) is anti-smoker. Ours is really geared toward targeting big tobacco and getting kids to realize that they’ve been manipulated and targeted for 50 years — creating an anger and a desire to fight back,” said Grace Riley, a Target Market member working with the transition team.
Many of the new attitudes and tactics stem from the ineffectual nature of past anti-tobacco campaigns.
Harvey said past efforts haven’t worked: “When you try to tell a teen that something is not good for them, your typical teen wants to go out and do it,” she said.
Target Market tries to take those natural instincts and lead them instead to rebel against the tobacco companies.
Others draw inspiration from the illegal tactics used by tobacco companies.
Katie Tilley, a Target Market transition team member said, “(Tobacco companies) did a study on root beer- and fruit punch-flavored cigarettes. They gave it to 7 year-olds and 40 year-olds. Who do you think liked it more? They target kids, and it’s so obvious.”
Target Market hopes to drastically reduce teen smoking and that this new approach will get results.
Florida, as a result of organizations like “The Truth,” has seen positive results.
“In a year they had the teen smoking rate lowered by 20 percent, and that’s what we want to do here,” Tilley said.
Berndt added: “We’re trying to do what they did and give it a Minnesota feel, hopefully changing social norms in Minnesota.”