Minnesota Teens: 'Big Tobacco Targets Us, Now We Target Them'
ST. CLOUD, Minn., April 4 /PRNewswire/ -- More than 400 Minnesota teens today formed a youth organization called Target Market to fight back against tobacco industry targeting of teens.
``Big Tobacco has targeted generation after generation of Minnesota teens -- our brothers, our sisters, our parents, and our grandparents,'' said Andy Berndt, a teen organizer of the event from Shoreview. ``Our generation isn't going to take it. We're targeting them right back.''
The gathering, dubbed the Kick Ash Bash by teens, centered on teen-to-teen discussions about tobacco industry manipulation of teens and how to combat it. After attending the three-day event featuring MTV stars, live music, and comedians, the young people wrapped up the third and final day of the Bash at the St. Cloud Civic Center by briefing Gov. Jesse Ventura about the name and direction of their new organization. The teens say Target Market will be a Minnesota youth movement dedicated to exposing the truth about tobacco industry manipulation of teens and fighting back against industry tactics.
``This has got to come from you,'' said Gov. Ventura. ``This is your initiative altogether.'' When talking about previous adult attempts at reducing youth tobacco use, Ventura said, ``We've tried, but we throw our hands up. We're turning it over to you.''
Ventura wowed the crowd when he placed a call to Nick Brookes, the CEO of Brown and Williamson, one of the top three U.S. tobacco companies. ``Stop targeting our young people,'' said Ventura to Brookes' voice mailbox. ``They're very bright and they're on to it.''
During the next several weeks, Bash participants will focus on exposing actual tobacco industry documents that make it clear that the industry has a history of marketing to teens.
Target Market will be a central part of community coalitions and the marketing campaign being funded by the Minnesota Youth Tobacco Endowment. The first ad of the marketing campaign will tell the story of the Bash itself. Subsequent ads will focus on teens across Minnesota speaking out and taking action against tobacco industry manipulation.
``With billions of marketing dollars behind them, the tobacco industry has had a loud voice in Minnesota for a long time,'' said Katie Tilley, of White Bear Lake. ``Finally Minnesota teens will have our voices magnified through this campaign. The tobacco industry better be ready. They're going to be hearing a lot from us.''
The young people attending the Bash were chosen based on an application they filled out. Among other things, the application included questions about the teen's attitudes about tobacco industry teen targeting. Organizers also tried to pick a group that was as geographically and demographically balanced as possible.
In addition to the 400 young people attending the Bash, almost 500 other young Minnesotans applied to go to the Bash. Organizers hope this group of more than 900 teens will seed a movement that will grow to include thousands of Minnesota teens within just a few months. Events are being planned for this summer to help build Target Market.
The Bash marks the beginning of a youth-led grassroots and marketing campaign being funded with interest generated by the newly created $490 million Minnesota Youth Tobacco Endowment. The centerpiece of the campaign will be Target Market.
The budget for the initial 18-month stage of the marketing campaign is $7.5 million and $1 million for the grassroots campaign. The tobacco industry spends an estimated $90 million marketing in Minnesota every year, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission.
A similar teen-led program in Florida built on exposing tobacco industry tactics has produced impressive results. In just two years, middle school smoking rates decreased by 54 percent and high school smoking rates decreased by 24 percent.
Numerous documents released in the recent Minnesota tobacco lawsuit show how tobacco executives targeted teenagers. For instance, one document reveals a UST official admitting ``Cherry Skoal is for someone who likes the taste of candy, if you know what I mean.''
The tobacco industry's targeting has worked. Eighty-six percent of minors who smoke prefer Marlboro, Camel and Newport, the three most heavily advertised brands of cigarettes. Only about one-third of adults smoke those brands.
Youth tobacco use ultimately takes a heavy toll in Minnesota. About 90 percent of adult smokers become addicted before they reach the age of 18. Once addicted as teens, the effects are difficult to reverse. Tobacco-related health and economic costs in Minnesota were estimated to be about $1.3 billion per year in 1995. In the past six years, youth tobacco use in Minnesota has gone up about 35 percent, much faster than in the rest of the nation.
NOTE: Teens interested in learning more about the teen-led movement against Big Tobacco are invited to visit http://www.kickashbash.com . They can sign up to receive regular updates about youth activities, special events and giveaways.