Project Description

Overview

Reality Check empowers youth to become leaders and fight against the tobacco industry through grassroots mobilization and education. Counter Tools has partnered with Reality Check to conduct training sessions for educating youth on tobacco and do advocacy work through rallying at the annual Altria shareholder’s meeting.

Strategy

Reality Check is a youth-led, adult-supported program based out of New York, established in 2001. It is funded by the New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Tobacco Control. Under Reality Check, youth have the opportunity to become leaders in their communities and educate their peers, family, community members, legislators, and decision-makers on the tobacco industry’s manipulative marketing practices and tobacco use. Their efforts aim to decrease youth tobacco use, protect youth from exposure to tobacco marketing and imagery, and eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.

Counter Tools first attended a New York Youth Summit in 2015 and has since partnered with Reality Check yearly to train and support youth in their efforts. The training sessions highlight the industry’s targeting of youth, minorities, and lower-income neighborhoods with point-of-sale tactics such as the selling of flavored tobacco products and highly-visible tobacco advertising. 

Besides gaining foundational knowledge, the youth are also trained on advocacy and social justice. They learn about steps they can take to create change in their communities and perfect their elevator pitch used to address stakeholders.

Training presentation

“In its 5th year of training youth champions for the annual Altria Shareholders Meeting event, Counter Tools brings the expertise and education our youth need to understand Big Tobacco’s deceptive marketing tactics, as well as how those tactics impact both their local and national communities. The broader, deeper learning experience they provide gets our young people thinking Big Picture–about how they can get out and contribute to their local community AND change the world.

Counter Tools has inspired and provoked our youth to think outside of themselves, prompting the realization that their voice represents everyone dealing with issues brought on by the troubling tobacco industry.”

Jonathan Chaffee, Reality Check Coordinator

Even more, the youth have an opportunity to rally outside the annual Altria shareholder’s meeting each year. Altria and its shareholders meet annually in Richmond, VA. Altria’s base/headquarters are here.  

Altria Group, Inc. is a Fortune 200 company and one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco products and other goods. Altria owns several of the largest cigarette companies in the U.S., including Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, John Middleton and Nat Sherman. The company’s tobacco brands include Marlboro, Copenhagen, Skoal and Black & Mild. In 2018, Altria invested billions to own a stake in e-cigarette maker JUUL Labs. Altria also has interest in Helix Innovations, which manufactures and markets on!, an oral tobacco-derived nicotine pouch product.

Counter Tools has rallied and protested outside this annual meeting alongside the youth and adult leaders. The group wields bright signs, uses props, and chant slogans to make their voices heard. For the entirety of the meeting, the group can be seen mobilizing and chanting loudly for all to hear including everyone in the meeting and on the street. The group theme of “people over profit” has rang loud each year, and represents the industry’s pursuit of profit over safeguarding lives. 

Youth with protest sign
People over profit shirt

Reality Check also uses Altria’s own strategy against them by buying shares in their stock. This allows a few of the youth to actually be able to attend the shareholder’s meeting, where they can ask questions directly to the company and challenge them. These youth have reported being able to hear everyone outside chanting, so the message is being received in multiple ways.

Holding Marlboro sign
Group photo at protest

Results

The annual training and rally is attended by upwards of 100 young people from middle and high school. Along with Reality Check, over the years, other groups have participated such as No Limits Nebraska, Dover Youth to Youth and the Truth Initiative. 

“Reality Check of NY values the partnership with Counter Tools as we train and prep youth for the work they do at the local and national level. The Altria Shareholder meeting event is an opportunity for young people to experience the tobacco industry at the shareholder level and be a part of the solution in creating a tobacco-free generation while learning about the ethics behind people over profit. It is a joy and gives me hope to see our next generation mobilized and using their voice in a powerful way.”

Dana Bushey Isabella, Program Director for Tobacco-Free CFE & Reality Check

Next Steps

In 2020, as a result of limitations around COVID-19, Counter Tools worked with Reality Check to prepare a week of virtual training sessions, activities, and social media advocacy. The Altria shareholder’s meeting was protested virtually and the week concluded with No Menthol Sunday (created by NAATPN). The week’s title/theme is “Mobilize Against Tobacco Lies Week of Engagement: Seven Deadly Lies” and it ran from May 11th – May 17th, 2020. Find more information at MobilizeAgainstTobaccoLies.com.

Visit Reality Check’s website to learn more.

Published May 8, 2020

“It has been great partnering with Reality Check and supporting the youth for the last few years. Reality Check is such an impressive and dynamic program with strong leadership! I am in constant awe of the determination, passion, and adeptness of the youth in fighting against the tobacco industry and educating the public. They are really making a difference! I never had the chance to do what these youth are doing (like rallying) when I was young, so it means a lot to be a part of these efforts now. I am glad we can be in support of this at Counter Tools!”

Jackie Boards, Project Director, Counter Tools

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