The 1998 Minnesota Tobacco Settlement and the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement were hailed as means to regulate tobacco industry advertising and promotion. They dictated that there would be no more billboards, branded merchandise, or advertisement in magazines with high youth readership. Despite these prohibitions, tobacco companies can still promote themselves. One way is charitable giving to nonprofit organizations and community festivals. The tobacco industry regularly uses this type of promotion to build relationships with a community, to legitimize itself, and ultimately to promote tobacco products. Because the tobacco industry’s charitable donations also help create positive views of the industry and its deadly products, they can silence community members and groups promoting initiatives like smoke-free air policies and laws that decrease youth access to tobacco and tobacco promotion.
Even worse, giving by the industry has been shown to influence youth in much the same way as other forms of promotion. As two researchers note, “Tobacco company sponsorship has the same effect on children as traditional tobacco product advertisement and promotion”. (Cornwell, T Betina, and Maignan, Isabella. “An International Review of Sponsorship Research.” Journal of Advertising, 1998: 27(1): 1-21.)
The tobacco industry typically makes donations to nonprofits that work with groups that are underserved: communities of color, women, youth, and low income and GLBT populations. The recipitents of the tobacco industry largesse typically include battered women’s shelters, food shelves, arts organizations, and organizations serving youth and those with HIV/ AIDS.
When organizations accept tobacco industry money, they are giving legitimacy to the tobacco industry. They may well be compromising their own mission. For instance, the National 4-H Council has each of its 6.5 million members take a pledge to live a healthy lifestyle. Neverless, the National 4-H Council has accepted $25 million dollars from Philip Morris USA over the last five years. Since 1998 Phillip Morris USA has donated $230 million to other youth-serving organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, The Forum for Youth Investment and Boys & and Girls Clubs of America. Phillip Morris USA manufactures Marlboro, the most popular brand among youth. Rival RJ Reynolds, makers of Camel-the second most popular youth brand-also has a history of giving money to organizations like YMCA, YWCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Boy Scouts of America.
Nonprofits that have accepted tobacco money often display the company’s name on plaques, programs, newsletters, and websites, thereby providing it widespread publicity. The tobacco companies expand on this publicity by touting their charitable donations in ads in magazines such as the New York Times Magazine, Family Circle, and Time as well as on their own company websites. As a result, they often spend much more money promoting these donations than they gave away in the first place.
Recently, President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. This law gives the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco, and permits local governments to regulate tobacco advertising and promotion at the local level-something that could not be done before. Although this law opens the door for new tobacco control efforts, it also provides opportunities for the industry to insert itself into communities in an effort to block regulations. The tobacco industry will undoubtedly try to strengthen relationships with local community leaders and nonprofits in order to prevent local advertising restrictions. That is why it is imperative that nonprofits take a stand against linking themselves to the tobacco industry by taking tobacco money.
By adopting a tobacco-free funding policy, an organization states, in writing, that it will not accept any donations from the tobacco industry and, as a result, will not let the tobacco industry use its good name to promote its products or silence the voices promoting important pro-health legislation. Even if an organization does not plan to accept tobacco industry money, a written policy will withstand the test of time. A written policy ensures that an organization, its members, and staff, in spite of turnover, will uphold a stand against participating in tobacco industry self-promotion.
For more information about how your organization can adopt a tobacco-free funding policy, please contact Bernadette Chlebeck, Community Organizer with the Ramsey Tobacco Coalition, at 651-646-3005 or email@example.com
Organizations that have adopted a Tobacco-Free Funding Policy with the Ramsey Tobacco Coalition
American Lung Association
Association for Nonsmokers- MN
Fourth District Nurses Association
Hmong American Partnership
Minnesota Public Health Association
Prepone Consulting LLC
Rainbow Health Initiative
South ST. Paul Healthy Youth Community Coalition (SSPHYCC)
Vietnamese MN Association (VMA)
Vietnamese Social Services (VSS)
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