Minnesota lawmakers will reconsider next week how the state spends the 1998 tobacco settlement money. Teens involved in Target Market, the state's largest anti-smoking campaign, are concerned about maintaining the money they received from the lawsuit.
Some of the students who rallied at the Capitol Tuesday in support of Target Market, the state's anti-smoking campaign targeted at youth. (MPR Photo/Laurel Druley)View larger image.
ABOUT 150 MINNESOTA TEENS CONGREGATED AT THE CAPITOL
Tuesday to apply pressure on legislators.
"Are we going to let them cut our funds? NOOO! Target Market, TM...TM," the students chanted.
Target Market is the most visible result of Minnesota's landmark 1998 tobacco settlement. About a year ago, 400 teens got together in St. Cloud to brainstorm what to do with their share of the settlement. Since then the campaign has grown to involve 20,000 young people who's rallying cry is, "You target us, we target you."
Jenny Phillips, 18, took a break from chanting to smoke a cigarette.
"I've been smoking since I was six years old. I can't help it. I can't stop. I've cut down a lot. I used to smoke two packs a day. I barely smoke a pack a day now," says Phillips.
The teen anti-smoking movement is riddled with irony. With the help of "dirty dollars" from the tobacco lawsuit, teens can fight the cigarette industry with a $7 million ad campaign.
Some lawmakers say Target Market's piece of the pie is too large. Republican Rep. Peggy Leppik, R-Golden Valley, the Higher Education Finance Committee chair, wants to cut the Minnesota Youth Tobacco Endowment in half. Instead, Leppik wants the $250 million to go toward the University of Minnesota's medical education and research endowment.
Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester, supports Leppik's move. He says $7 million is an exorbitant amount of money for an ad campaign that he doesn't understand.
"I have a 16-year old son and he says it's the dumbest thing he's ever seen," says Bradley. "We know of target marketing, but we don't think it's going to change behaviors."
Bradley says he's concerned the money is just lining the pockets of ad agencies that organize the campaign. Bradley would like to see more results. DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe supports Target Market and the money it receives. He says the campaign should be given more time to show results.
For more information on Target Market, visit their web site: tmvoice.com
"There has to be a sustained effort because you're not just targeting children who are vulnerable now. There's going to be a new crop," says Moe.
Minnesota's program is modeled after Florida's youth movement, which cut smoking rates by 40 percent among junior high students.
Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, says she won't know for another year how many teens quit smoking as a result of the Target Market campaign.
"I am convinced this is going to be the best public health investment we have made in our state," says Malcolm.
"Thank you big tobacco for causing impotence in young men. Keep it up ... I mean down," says one sarcastic Target Market ad. But that's only part of the overall campaign. A more targeted educational campaign is touring 30 cities this spring with actual documents from the tobacco lawsuit. At a recent stop at John Marshall Middle School in Rochester, a group of eigth graders climbed on board the 48-foot semi trailer. The impressive display transforms the trailer into an alley - complete with trash cans and graffitti. But this graffitti is educational.
Patrick Kasper, an adult facilitator, shows the students documents that were made public in the 1998 lawsuit. One Brown and Williamson memo quoted a consultant wo recommended honey and Coca Cola-flavored cigarettes. He shows students ads that target kids.
Kasper says their document tour travels to middle schools because by the time kids get to high school, they've made up their minds about smoking. At the end of the discussion kids can make a commercial. The videotapes are reviewed by Target Market's ad firm.
The debate is not just about how Target Market spends its share of the settlement, but whether the tobacco money is going toward anti-smoking initiatives at all. In fact, according to a Target Market public relations official, some lawmakers see the tobacco dollars as surplus that could potentially be used to give Minnesota taxpayers a tax rebate.