Youth organization pushes forward against tobacco

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 3, 2001

They are anything but subtle.

Tuesday, April 03, 2001

They are anything but subtle.

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"Big tobacco sucks," Josh Gardner said.

The Austin High School junior is unabashedly irreverent.

So is Nate Glynn, a Grand Meadow High School freshman. After seeing all the tobacco company advertisements, Glynn became … well … upset.

"They have targeted us for so long," Glynn said. "Now, it’s our turn to target them."

Target Market is doing just that. According to Joshua Derr, the southeast Minnesota field organizer for Target Market, the organization’s more than 18,000 members are fighting back at the tobacco companies, which admit using teens as their target markets.

Derr, largely in the background, joined Gardner and Glynn, largely in the foreground, at a news conference Monday afternoon prior to the regular Austin City Council meeting at which they made another presentation.

Austin Mayor Bonnie Rietz proclaimed Monday to be Target Market Day in the city.

TM is led by youth with adults only serving in the background as advisers. The messages are made by teens for teens.

According to Derr, at an age when teens are beginning to question adult control and rebel against authority figures, they resent that adults in the tobacco industry are singling them out for targeting and manipulation.

The Journal of Marketing says teens are three times as sensitive as adults to tobacco ads and three of the most heavily advertised cigarette brands are the three chosen most by teens. The study showed that 86 percent of teens choose the brands but only about one-third of adults do.

TM is funded by interest earned by the less than 8 percent of the $6.1 billion tobacco settlement won by the state of Minnesota and placed in an endowment for tobacco prevention efforts.

TM’s Derr spends his time helping teen-agers organize new "grassroots" efforts. The Austin and Grand Meadow effort is a year old. Gardner and Glynn serve as Mower County’s representatives on a state board of teens who oversee the Minnesota effort statewide.

They talk sarcastically about tobacco companies, speak irreverently, poke fun and are otherwise brutally honest about their feelings.

"It’s so obvious what they are doing," Gardner said. "They start with those candy cigarettes for little children and that just ticks me off."

"Yeah," Glynn joined in. "Everything from Joe Camel to the Marlboro Man and all those pretty women smoking. It’s a campaign to make us think smoking is cool."

"All those ads are full of lies," Gardner said.

Both Gardner and Glynn said they are willing to take a stand even among their peers. "You have to stand up for what you believe in and this is it," Gardner said. "It’s a cause I’m willing to fight for," Glynn said.

So they and others like them are going to get in the face of tobacco companies and if the smoke gets in their eyes, watch out.

"The more we look like we have an edge, the more we will get the attention of others," Glynn said.