New York Youth Speak Out At Tobacco Giant’s Shareholder Meeting

Teens Say They Won’t Be “FUULed” by the Company’s Latest Bait and Switch Tactics

120 teen leaders from New York State will took on Altria Group executives and shareholders on May 16th for the fourth consecutive year. Their actions, centered outside the Richmond Convention Center, Richmond, Virginia, and areas nearby, focused on why the tobacco giant baited consumers and public health officials with the promise of withdrawing pod-based nicotine products from the market in order to combat teen vaping use, and then switched  their priorities by investing $12.8 billion in e-cigarette company JUUL Labs. The teens represent Reality Check of New York and No Limits of Nebraska.

“Altria blamed nicotine pods and fruity flavors for fueling a surge in teen vaping,” said Jonathan Chaffee, coordinator of the Reality Check program of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany Counties.. “If that’s the case, then why did they invest in JUUL, the company that made these types of e-cigarettes so popular?”

“Despite what they say, Altria spends billions marketing their deadly products right in front of us, first cigarettes and now JUUL” said  Olivia Lang, Reality Check champion. “Their goal is to create a new generation of customers—just in a different product. Enough is enough, already!” Studies show that kids who shop in stores with tobacco marketing, such as gas stations and convenience stores, are 64 percent more likely to start smoking than their friends who don’t.

The teens dressed in waders and carried fishing poles with a fresh catch of JUUL nicotine pods and Marlboro cigarettes hanging from them. They want Altria executives, as well as the entire tobacco industry, to know that they won’t be “FUULed” by Big Tobacco investment in JUUL and will continue to carry out the awareness-raising work they start in Richmond in their communities back home.

Some youth will take their stories right to the biggest fish – the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Altria Group, Howard Willard. Eight Reality Check teens and two youth leaders have been given shareholder proxy tickets and went inside the meeting to address corporate tobacco executives and ask questions.

Altria’s investment will allow JUUL products to be displayed alongside regular cigarettes in the nation’s retail outlets, a combination that undercuts earlier promises Altria made with former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to clamp down on the youth vaping “epidemic.”

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Public health officials and youth leaders for Reality Check, who have successfully fought to eliminate youth-attracting marketing tactics like colorful packaging and candy flavors in cigarettes through the years, see this as their next big battle to reduce teen tobacco use.

Reeling in more information: 

Findings on youth tobacco use and tobacco industry marketing in places where children and young adolescents can see it indicate:

  • The average age of a new smoker in New York is 13 years old, and 90 percent of adult smokers say they first tried smoking by age 18.
  • The U.S. tobacco industry spent an estimated $9.5 billion on advertising and promotion of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco in 2013. This includes nearly $220 million annually in New York State, or nearly $602,000 a day.
  • Stores popular among adolescents contain almost three times more tobacco marketing materials compared to other stores in the same community.
  • 37% of Allegany County high school seniors reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days in 2019.
  • 66% of teenagers who vape reported they vape for the flavors.

 

This Altria shareholders demonstration is a joint effort between Reality Check NY, No Limits of Nebraska and Counter Tools of Chapel Hill, NC, a non-profit organization that provides training to public health workers who are working on point of sale tobacco control. In preparation for demonstrating on Thursday, the Reality Check youth spent all day Wednesday learning about tobacco control policies, how the tobacco industry contracts with retailers and how they can stand up, speak out and make a difference in the fight against big tobacco.

Reality Check is a teen-led, adult-run program that seeks to prevent and decrease tobacco use among young people throughout New York State.

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For more information about Reality Check, visit realitycheckofny.org.

Resources

CATCH E-cigarette Prevention

CDC E-cigarettes

Truth Initiative’s BecomeAnEx

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