Local Youth Mobilize Against Big Tobacco in Albany

Youth Raised Awareness of Flavored Tobacco Products, Participated in Altria Shareholders’ Meeting

First row, far left Ritney Castine of the Center for Black Health and Equity, teens from Reality Check of NY and Dover Youth 2 Youth of Delaware, first row, far right retired Director of NYS Tobacco Control Harlan Juster.

On May 19, five teen leaders from Tobacco-Free Chautauqua, Cattraugus, Allegany Counties (TFCCA) in joined other youth from around New York State, as well as Delaware, to call on Big Tobacco to voluntarily remove all flavors, in all their products, for all people. The live rally in West Capitol Park in Albany, NY, took place as Altria Group (Philip Morris USA) was holding their annual shareholders’ meeting, and was livestreamed to young people across the country who participated virtually. The united effort highlighted the tobacco industry’s use of flavored tobacco (including menthol) to target specific populations and drive initiation of and dependence of products harmful to their health.

Speakers at the youth-led press event included Ritney Castine, a health advocate and leader with the Center for Black Health and Equity and Harlan Juster, PhD, retired Director of Tobacco Control for the New York State Department of Health. Youth leaders Louisa Pelletier of Dover Youth to Youth and Kristina Donders of New York State Reality Check also spoke.

“While the tobacco industry constantly denies that they target youth with their marketing, you can’t argue with the facts,” said Kristina Donders, NYS Reality Check champion. “The fact is that 85% of e-cigarette users use flavored products.”

”The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced proposed rules that would ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars,” said Harlan Juster, PhD, retired Director of Tobacco Control for the New York State Department of Health. “But I believe that state and local communities must pursue banning the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars; in fact, they should ban all flavors, in all products, for all people and not wait for the FDA to act.”

”We know that 40,000 African Americans die each year due to tobacco-related illnesses and that the overwhelming majority of Black Americans who smoke cigarettes use menthol products,” said Ritney Castine of the Center for Black Health and Equity. “The time is now for New York to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and save lives.”

In preparation for Thursday’s in-person demonstration, youth spent Wednesday doing team-building exercises, planning the rally, learning about tobacco control policies, and how they can stand up, speak out and make a difference in the fight against big tobacco. Trainers were from Corporate Accountability, Counter Tools, Dover Youth 2 Youth, and the Hawaii Youth Council.

The press rally was part of a bigger effort, the third annual Mobilize Against Tobacco Lies (MATL 2022). Teens from Dover Youth 2 Youth in New Hampshire, the Kick Butts Generation in Delaware and Reality Check in New York were in-person in Albany, while youth leaders from Texas, Arkansas and Hawaii participated virtually.

Some youth took their demands right to the top – the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Altria Group, Billy Gifford. Teens from Dover Youth 2 Youth, New York State Reality Check, Texas Say What, Hawaii Youth Council and Project Prevent in Arkansas were made a designee for a shareholder to address corporate tobacco executives and ask questions during the virtual shareholders’ meeting while others spoke out on social media.

For more information on Mobilize Against Tobacco Lies follow them on Facebook, @mobilizeagainsttobaccolies on Instagram, @Tobacco_LIES on Twitter, or check out their website.