Message to Shareholders: We’ve Seen Enough Tobacco Marketing

Despite the 80-degree forecast for Richmond, VA on Thursday, May 17, a cold front will pass through downtown just in time for the Altria Group shareholders annual meeting. The icy blast, expected to storm through the area around the Richmond Convention Center, will include 60 youth from Reality Check New York and No Limits Nebraska carrying snowmen puppets and ice cube shaped balloons.

This winter of discontent, a third annual pilgrimage for the Reality Check teens from across New York State, is themed “Cold As Ice” to parody the new Marlboro Ice Blast packaging and marketing campaign that has stormed through retail stores earlier this year. The group’s goal: to tell Altria Group, the nation’s No. 1 tobacco company and owner of Marlboro maker Philip Morris USA (PMUSA), that they’ve seen enough tobacco marketing and they want the company to do something about it.

Some youth will take their chilling stories right to the top – the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Altria Group, Martin J. Barrington. Three Reality Check teens have been given shareholder proxy tickets and will go inside the meeting to address corporate tobacco executives and ask questions.

Philip Morris USA has gone on record claiming it doesn’t market to kids and doesn’t want them to start smoking; however, the tobacco industry spends $9.6 billion per year to market their products at the point of sale.

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.

According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report, if current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million Americans younger than 18 who are alive today are projected to die prematurely from smoking-related disease.

This Altria shareholders demonstration is a joint effort between Reality Check NY and Counter Tools. In preparation for demonstrating on Thursday, the Reality Check youth will spend 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.