Tobacco giant Altria, which owns the cigarette maker Marlboro and shares of vaping company Juul Labshas quietly funded for many years substance use prevention training for middle and high school students, despite numerous studies showing that industry-sponsored school programs discourage encourage teenagers to smoke — and in fact can do the opposite.
Altria has provided funding for over a decade to support the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Violence Prevention and Research (CSPV). implementing the Botvin LifeSkills Training program. Program — that is created by behavioral scientist Gilbert Botvinwho did not respond to a request for comment — teaches elementary through high school students tools they can use to avoid substance use, violence, and other risky behaviors.
Altria’s relationship with CSPV has long been revealed by both sides and is made public, but appears to have been largely obscured. When asked about it by TIME this month, Dr. Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, wrote in an email that he was surprised to learn about the program, “coming from the public health world.” , where such funding is not available. ”
“I don’t think most people know [about this]“Cheryl Healton, dean of the New York University School of Global Public Health, agrees with and has studied industry-funded smoking prevention programs and found them ineffective. “Why don’t they stop?”
In an email, a CU Boulder representative said that, to CSPV’s knowledge, the tobacco companies were never involved in the development of the LifeSkills curriculum. “The Center independently facilitates program implementation, program recipient selection, and monitoring,” the spokesperson wrote. “At the time no students were introduced to any [Altria] Branding. ”
Altria customer service support — this amount millions of dollars in funding—The latest chapter in a long book. For decades, Big Tobacco brands have funded youth smoking cessation programs in an effort to, as Healton alleges, “ [themselves] as part of the solution “to smoking in adolescence without significantly altering their business.
In an email to TIME, a spokesperson for Altria wrote that the company does so “to help address a core concern of the business: underage tobacco use. In addition to the actions we have taken to responsibly market and limit minors’ access to tobacco products, we support a range of youth development programs. evidence-based positive chronology”.
Philip Morris, later renamed Altria, began supporting the LifeSkills program in the late 1990s – before it was affiliated with CU Boulder – along with the Brown & Williamson tobacco company. When CU Boulder’s CSPV began implementing the program in 2009, Altria began funding its efforts to disseminate the curriculum to middle school students. It added support for the high school program in 2019.
RJ Reynolds and Lorillard also run or sponsored youth programs against smoking in the 1990s and early 2000s. In 2014, the National Association of School Boards of America reported announced that it would promote an anti-smoking curriculum developed by RJ Reynolds, was criticized by lawmakers and tobacco control experts, and then ended the relationship within five days of the original statement. In 2019, the e-cigarette company Juul was approved by the National Assembly pay a handful of schools to implement an anti-vaping curriculum developed by the company’s consultants.
Tobacco control experts have long argued that industry-sponsored programs cause conflicts of interest and are unproven. Do not encourage young people to smoke. In fact, several studies have suggested the opposite: A 2002 study Healton’s co-authors found that children exposed to Big Tobacco’s program viewed the tobacco industry more favorably than children who were not.
In particular, the Botvin LifeSkills program is the subject of a Research 2006 inside Adolescent Health Magazine, based on internal tobacco industry reviews of the program and found little evidence that the program reduces youth smoking, although it has been approved by reputable groups including China confirmed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On its website, LifeSkills now says that other big-name organizations, including the US Department of Education and the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, recognized it for “the excellence of the show.”
In a statement to TIME, a CDC spokesperson confirmed that the agency branded LifeSkills as an effective program in the 1990s. The spokesperson wrote: “Since that time, the manufacturing landscape has changed dramatically. tobacco products has changed dramatically. “Therefore, CDC cannot speak to the effectiveness of the current tobacco-related modules in the LifeSkills Training Program.”
Today, CDC speak clearly that “tobacco school-sponsored programs in schools are not effective and may promote tobacco use among youth”. The World Health Organization also advises governments and public health groups does not receive sponsorship from the tobacco industryand the United Nations declared “a fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health.”
However, programs like LifeSkills continue to grow, thanks to money from the tobacco industry.
In January, Malcolm Ahlo, who leads tobacco control efforts for the Southern Nevada Medical District, received an offer to apply for funding from CU Boulder’s CSPV. If Ahlo applies and receives the grant, schools that partner with his health district can receive free educational materials from the LifeSkills program and teachers will be paid to attend training. needed to lead the course, according to an offer of funding that was reviewed by TIME. “This funding opportunity comes at a critical time as COVID-19 has impacted budgets and requires the social-emotional competencies and healthy coping strategies taught in the LST curriculum,” says the statement. writing sample.
Ahlo was intrigued until he saw a funding reveal showing Altria’s financial involvement. “If the tobacco industry is really interested in solving youth tobacco problems, it will support initiatives like raising tobacco prices and increasing tobacco prices,” he said. Eliminate flavored products. To use a prevention program sponsored by Big Tobacco, he said, would be to “sleep with the enemy.”
An Altria spokesperson defended the company’s actions. “We know that our direct involvement in the implementation of programs is not the right approach, so we invest in proven effective, evidence-based programs. like the LifeSkills Training program,” they wrote in an email to TIME.
In addition to its involvement with LifeSkills, Altria’s tobacco companies also invest in youth-focused organizations including 4-H, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys & Girls Clubs, according to its website. In 2020, Altria-owned companies provided about $25 million in funding for youth initiatives.
Some might argue that good things are done with that money, especially in schools that are often short of cash, rendering its source irrelevant. But Healton says there is no such thing as free money from Big Tobacco.
“It sends a really interesting message to young people, and it’s not true,” says Healton. “The message it sent was ‘The tobacco industry really cares about me’.