4-H, Yes! Philip Morris, No!

B. Alan Snider
May 1, 1999

As a career 4-H youth development professional (now retired), I was upset to learn that the National 4-H Council would partner with Philip Morris to design, implement and evaluate a youth smoking prevention program.

As a 4-H program leader, I was naive to the significant issues with tobacco control until 1993, when I started working on a statewide, comprehensive, youth tobacco prevention program with 20 Penn State Cooperative Extension educators, the Fox Chase Cancer Center and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. I became very aware of how deceptively the tobacco industry operates. I quickly learned that with this public health problem we had an enemy who targeted youth as replacement smokers, despite its denials.

The National 4-H Council has also been naive about some of the critical issues in youth tobacco control. If it was more aware of these issues, I believe it would have not accepted any amount of money from Philip Morris to be a partner. Consider two points:

Philip Morris' "Think, Don't Smoke" campaign is a limited approach to reduce children and youth smoking. Its focus requires youth to make the right choice. This may have been one reason that the National 4-H Council bought into the Philip Morris partnership, because 4-H helps teach youth decision-making skills.

However, the "Think, Don't Smoke" approach puts the responsibility on the youth, rather than on the tobacco industry for promoting and marketing a known deadly and addictive product. Nicotine is an addictive drug, and if the tobacco industry can get kids to "experiment" by smoking just one pack of cigarettes, it can get many of those kids hooked.

Instead of putting the burden on youth, the tobacco industry should aggressively educate its merchants and hold them accountable for illegal sales to children, tell us the contents of tobacco smoke (for both users and those exposed to second-hand smoke), make its research on the health effects of tobacco easily available for public view, and intensify advertising campaigns to reverse the appeal of tobacco.

Reducing youth tobacco use requires more than teaching youth to decide against it. I've learned over the last six years with our youth tobacco prevention efforts that community capacity-building is crucial. We need multiple approaches to help communities change norms so that the availability and use of tobacco products by children and youth are not tolerated. We need community leaders and youth with effective advocacy skills to address tobacco issues. Communities can adopt tobacco-free polices in all public locations and government buildings, help workplaces go tobacco-free, and license all tobacco-selling outlets and vigorously enforce laws against sales to minors.

I agree with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids that the Philip Morris partnership may impede effective tobacco strategies in the 4-H program initiative. Four Philip Morris staff are on the design team for the 4-H National Youth Smoking Prevention Program. With Philip Morris at the table with the team developing the curriculum and program, the group may "overlook" effective tobacco reduction strategies beyond "Think" and "Don't Smoke." The group may not be truly free to address local identified needs with effective strategies to reduce tobacco use by kids.

I am pleased that the National 4-H Council has identified youth tobacco prevention as a priority in its efforts to reach youth and families in high risk environments. However, Philip Morris makes lots of money on smokers. It needs replacement smokers in order to survive. Does it seem reasonable that Philip Morris staff will not have an influence on the development of strategies that will hurt their business? Strategies such as restrictions on tobacco advertising, promotion, and selling to children and youth? From experience, I think not.

Does 4-H want to partner with an industry that spends billions of dollars to sell deadly nicotine delivery products, while simultaneously trying to improve its public image by associating with 4-H? I say no.

Snider, B. Alan. "4-H, Yes! Philip Morris, No! ." Youth Today, May 1999, p. 59.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.