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Smoke and Mirrors

Jordin Isip

[Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.]

The wind whipping through downtown Minneapolis is uncharacteristically cold for early October. Gales from the west slice past the Target Center and gust helter-skelter across the vacant Block E. It's frigid outside First Avenue and the 7th Street Entry, and steam rises from the streams of teenagers trickling out of the club's Sunday-evening all-ages show.

The mood outside is slightly volatile. Voodoo Glow Skulls headlined. Two bands on the bill walked offstage early, and some irritation is spilling onto the sidewalk. A gangly kid sporting black-rimmed Poindexter glasses and a new, optic-yellow Eminem 'do is being given the bum's rush. "Fuck you, First Avenue!" he yells. "Yeah, and fuck you too," he says softly to a friend who throws him his jacket from inside. Within a few minutes tensions ease as teenagers form clusters on the sidewalk, most of them trying to figure out how to cram into the too-few borrowed cars for the ride home.

Many are smoking. There is no pretense of sophistication or coolness to the act. It's done in that hand-in-the-cookie-jar kind of way. They make repeated attempts to light sweat-soaked matches into the wind. They inhale too deeply. They shift their cigarettes from hand to hand, eyes darting around self-consciously.

Standing at the center of one cluster is the kid who was just 86ed. He's 16 years old, he lives in Golden Valley, he was getting picked on by some bullies he knows from school. He doesn't smoke, but he seems only mildly irritated by the clouds that drift up around his head.

"I hate that shit," he says. "Smoking is stupid. But I don't care if someone chooses to do it."

That sentiment is hardly shared by Minnesota public-health officials, who have just rolled out the biggest teen antismoking campaign in the state's history. This young man has seen the edgy, youth-oriented ads produced by the campaign known as Target Market, and he understands the strategy--kids his age blasting Big Tobacco for conspiring to hook youths on cigarettes. But he still doesn't buy it.

"Look, I don't think it should be up to the government to tell us what to do," he says. "Number one, it seems like a victory ad for the politicians who are in favor of the tobacco settlement. And number two, why don't they go after alcohol? It's just government trying to enforce people's opinions."

He's soon surrounded by a group of teens eager to talk about Target Market. A stocky 16-year-old from northeast Minneapolis says he has smoked since he was 11, mostly because his parents did. "I've heard the ads on the radio, but if I wanna smoke, I smoke," he says. Sure, the ads have made him think about quitting, he continues, but he "was probably gonna quit pretty soon anyway."

A few of the teens say they like Target Market's commercials and billboards. "I don't smoke, because my parents do," says a 17-year-old from Minnetonka. "Target Market shows that someone's finally getting after the tobacco companies," he adds.

Indeed, the campaign plays heavily on the irony: Thanks to the state's landmark out-of-court settlement with the nation's largest tobacco companies in 1998, Minnesota is punishing Big Tobacco with its own dirty dollars. But there's a deeper irony at work as well, one that's entirely unintentional. Two and a half years after the trial ended, Target Market is the settlement's sole visible outgrowth. Though they were barely into adolescence when the lawsuit that pitted the State of Minnesota and Blue Cross and Blue Shield against Big Tobacco peaked nearly three years ago, these kids know about the settlement. They know that the $6.1 billion the state stands to collect is supposed to be used to fight the good fight. With that much money, smoking might really be eradicated. But like most Minnesotans, they have only a vague notion of how the money is being spent. And, as tends to be the case when unfathomable numbers are bandied about, some teens harbor suspicions that the money will end up being absorbed by the sponge of big government. The victory and its heady afterglow have long since dissipated.

The settlement's supporters--and its beneficiaries--assert confidently that the tobacco-industry money will be the most effective and important expenditure the state will ever make. Others, however, remain uncertain, pointing out that the apparatus is complex, and that it shields from the public eye the activities of some of the entities on the receiving end.

Of course, for the time being, those activities are largely the province of Target Market.

"I just started smoking," says a 16-year-old Gothed-out girl from Hopkins, dawdling outside First Avenue. "But I think the ads are awesome! It makes me question smoking, but I'll probably still do it."  

A hyperblond nonsmoker from Minnetonka takes a dimmer view. "I just don't like it," he says. "It's just a bunch of whiny turds with too much time telling us what to do. They should get off our backs."

 

May 8, 1998: Minnesota Attorney General Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III strides out of the Ramsey County courthouse, where he has spent the past four months trying a landmark lawsuit against five tobacco companies, and convenes a press conference at the Radisson Hotel in downtown St. Paul. After a furious round of last-minute negotiations, with the jury on the verge of deliberations, word has leaked out that the plaintiffs have secured a major concession from Big Tobacco. It couldn't have come at a better time for Humphrey, who had withstood much criticism and pressure since he filed the suit in August 1994, and who has just set out on a campaign for the governor's mansion. Now, clad in a dark suit, Humphrey gleefully works his way through the throng of cameras and microphones.

"When we launched this historic lawsuit against the tobacco cartel, the critics said we would never prevail against this powerful industry," he triumphantly tells the standing-room-only crowd when he reaches the podium. "Today, the tobacco industry has surrendered--and they have surrendered on our terms."

Those terms amount to a staggering windfall. Blue Cross will get a payment of half a billion dollars, as will lead attorney Mike Ciresi's trial team. And for the State of Minnesota: payments in perpetuity, amounting to an estimated $6.1 billion.

The details of the settlement hadn't even been announced before politicians fell to fighting over the fate of the bounty. The court quickly diverted a big chunk to finance a private nonprofit that would operate outside the control of the state. As for the rest, there were as many ideas about how to spend the money as there were potential recipients.

Politicians thought the cash should go toward helping the state alleviate burdens caused by smoking. "In deciding how to use this one-time windfall, we should first focus on those health expenses," House Speaker Phil Carruthers told the Star Tribune at the time.

Some saw the money as the rightful property of the citizens of Minnesota. Wayne Cox, who was then the director of Minnesota Citizens for Tax Justice, said the money "should go right into the pockets of taxpayers."

Still others felt the government should use it to reward the health-care system. "This is a rare opportunity, and it would be disappointing if the Legislature would squander it," opined a spokeswoman for Allina Health System.

Lawmakers, lobbyists, and curmudgeons spent the ensuing year feuding over what to do with the booty. In the end the portion of the settlement received up front by the state--$968 million to date--was put into a kind of anti-tobacco trust fund. Interest from that endowment would be used to fund smoking-prevention efforts and research. The principal can't be touched, and strict guidelines spell out how the interest can be spent: The interest on 39 percent, or nearly $400 million, of the money can be used to fund academic and medical research, which mainly means the University of Minnesota. The interest from the remaining $590 million funds the rest of the state's anti-tobacco efforts. Some of the money that's supposed to arrive later--no one knows exactly how much--will go into the state's general fund.

(At present it's virtually impossible to calculate how much tobacco money there is, and who has it. Most of the numbers--including the settlement amount--are estimates, based on projections of tobacco companies' future profits. And there's no single formula for how much money will be forthcoming: There are one-time payments, some of which come in annual chunks until 2003; other payments are to be spaced over 20 years; and still others are to be made in perpetuity. Further complicating matters is the fact that some of the payments go directly into various programs. And no single state office is tracking it all.)

State Sen. Thomas Neuville, a Northfield Republican, smelled a rat, and he wasn't at all shy about making his qualms public. He pointed out that because the nonprofit, dubbed the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco (MPAAT), was to receive checks directly from the tobacco companies, state officials would have no control over how that money would be spent; in fact, the way the agency was set up, the group's records could remain out of the public's reach.

Neuville was also concerned that so much money--nearly $1 billion to date--was to be locked away in an account earmarked for antismoking efforts. A billion dollars is a lot of money to dedicate to an effort no one is sure will work, he complained; the funds couldn't even be spent on the smoking-related health-care costs Humphrey had repeatedly raised during the lawsuit. Finally there was the fact that the settlement payouts were pegged to future tobacco-industry profits. What if the money failed to materialize?  

Then-Gov. Arne Carlson wasn't happy either. He complained bitterly that the Legislature should have control over the money. And when he took office five months later, Jesse Ventura would echo that sentiment: "While the governor supports the general concept of dividing the settlement money among endowments, he has been very firm that he does not support additional money...to be spent on advertising and public relations geared toward cessation and prevention of tobacco use," read a statement from Ventura's office criticizing the creation of MPAAT. "The governor has been clear that tobacco money should be used for medical research and education, programs to support self-sufficiency, and public-health initiatives."

Of course, political control is exactly what Humphrey and his allies wanted to avoid. "A nonprofit was fundamental to the origins of the lawsuit, and it guided the court in that direction," explains Eric Johnson, a longtime Humphrey aide. "The creation of MPAAT recognized that if the remedy were left in the hands of the Legislature, it would be easy prey for tobacco companies to undo."

Perhaps. But it also would have been accessible to the citizens of Minnesota, notes Mark Anfinson, a prominent local First Amendment attorney whose client list includes City Pages. "There's still a significant deficit in terms of public access that is part of the settlement, especially in regard to MPAAT," says Anfinson, who argued unsuccessfully at the time that the group ought to be subject to the state's Government Data Practices Act. "No matter how you slice it, it's all public money."

Anfinson believes the settlement pie was split according to a misguided notion--namely, that any anti-tobacco effort is noble by its very definition, so public scrutiny is unnecessary: "The jury is absolutely out on all of this, even though it's well-intentioned. The path to Hell is paved with good intentions. There's been way too much of a free pass on how to spend this thing, because it's for a good cause."

 

The headquarters of the Minnesota Partnership for Action Against Tobacco is located in a nondescript brick building four blocks north of the capitol in St. Paul. On a clear fall afternoon the view from the fourth-floor suite provides a visual tour of the neighborhood's history, with office buildings, turn-of-the-century homes, and 1960s-era apartment buildings coexisting uneasily on the hilltop. Christine Rice, who took over as MPAAT's interim executive director in February, makes a crack about the humble facility. The sparsely decorated surroundings, punctuated mostly by spanking new office furniture, give the place the appearance of a weeks-old Internet startup.

Rice sits tensely behind her desk. As she introduces herself, she says she has spent most of her life as a "community volunteer." She was, she adds, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health until 1997. Her résumé further reveals that she has also been the director of the department's public-affairs and lobbying effort, and she admits to being well acquainted with the state Legislature. She has chosen not to draw the $90,000-a-year salary she's entitled to as acting director.

As Rice sees it, MPAAT is the silent partner in the state's fight against tobacco; its mission is to fund tobacco research and smoking-cessation programs. "We are a catalyst. We are a granting institution," she explains, noting that MPAAT works in conjunction with the Department of Health, Blue Cross, and various antismoking grassroots groups like the Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition. "But mostly we don't really want the public to know what we do," she says. "We, in a sense, want to be invisible, so others can take the right approach to fighting smoking."

Detractors say MPAAT is Humphrey's baby. Even as the settlement was being drawn up, they complain, the outgoing attorney general wasted no time in getting cash set aside for his causes--namely, ensuring that some of the cash go to the folks who had for so long formed the backbone of Minnesota's anti-tobacco movement. The settlement called for the formation of an independent nonprofit, and within weeks Humphrey had submitted a written proposal to Ramsey County District Court outlining his vision for MPAAT's general structure and objectives. The request went on for page after page, outlining the harmful effects of smoking, and promised that MPAAT would protect Minnesotans from the health risks of smoking.

Ramsey County Chief Judge Lawrence D. Cohen signed off on the creation of the nonprofit about a month later, directing that it receive $102 million from the initial settlement payment, followed by $10 million per year for the next ten years. MPAAT would have a 21-member, all-volunteer board appointed by various state and local officials, a full-time staff of eight, and a finite lifespan of 25 years. It would be trusted to spend the money wisely; the court order requires only that MPAAT hire an auditor to review its books every two years and show the report to the Legislature.  

It wasn't just a victory for Humphrey, but a long-awaited reward for Minnesota's antismoking advocates. Many of the same people who, back in 1975, pushed to make Minnesota one of the first states to adopt a Clean Indoor Air Act, had continued to toil against tobacco for the next quarter-century. In the Eighties they had won some state and federal funding, which would soon be gutted during the Carlson administration. Many were now in line for seats on MPAAT's board.

Dr. Richard C. Hurt, who for nearly three decades has worked with a nicotine clinic affiliated with the Mayo Clinic, was one of the plaintiffs' star witnesses during the trial. He was appointed chair of the new board, a post he still holds. Another doctor, Cheryl Perry, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota for nearly 20 years who went to bat for the state during the trial, found herself on MPAAT's research advisory committee. Another board member, Dr. A. Stuart Hanson, is a Minneapolis physician who served as president of Smoke Free Generation-Minnesota from 1984 to 1990. Jean L. Harris, mayor of Eden Prairie when she was appointed, was chosen because she "passed one of the first and toughest local ordinances [against] youth access to tobacco in Minnesota" and "has waged a personal crusade against environmental tobacco smoke," according to her MPAAT bio.

All those positions are unpaid. But several other members of MPAAT's original advisory committees were awarded research grants in September. Harry Lando--like Perry, a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota--is studying smoking cessation in adults with diabetes, and will get $449,620 over the course of three years.

Jean Forster, another U of M Ph.D., will be involved in an 18-month, $124,000 study to reduce smoking among American Indian youth. A third advisor on the original committees, U of M psychiatrist Dorothy Hatsukami, was awarded the nonprofit's largest grant--$495,000--to study "nicotine and sensory replacement" in heavy smokers over the next three years. Lando, Forster, and Hatsukami all left the nonprofit last year.

Does any of this constitute a conflict of interest? Not according to MPAAT's bylaws: "The Board may give grants or contracts to organizations in which a director, board committee member or advisory committee member has a material financial interest if the Board finds the contract fair and reasonable; and the material facts are disclosed; and the board approves by majority, not counting the interested person."

According to the nonprofit's mission statement, the goal is to spend the $202 million to "aid in the research of smoking's detriment to public health, and fight in cessation of adult smoking." (The objective is to reduce smoking in the state by ten percent by 2003.) Rice admits that these are vague policies, but she's confident that MPAAT can ensure that the money will go to people who have demonstrated a clear plan for using grants.

She says that perhaps the most important thing MPAAT can do is to endeavor to make smoking culturally unacceptable. California and Massachusetts, she asserts, have lowered their smoking rates because social climates have changed to open disdain for tobacco use. In keeping with this approach, MPAAT intends to spend some of its money researching and publicizing the effects of secondhand smoke.

MPAAT made its first round of grants in July, a total of $2.3 million aimed at reducing tobacco use. Of that, $1.4 million went to outstate organizations in places such as Crow Wing, Marshall, Todd, and Wadena counties, aimed at reducing secondhand smoke in restaurants, bars, businesses, and schools, and at increasing the number of smoke-free restaurants over the next two years. Nearly half of that $1.4 million will go to the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, to "build community readiness for policy change."

In September MPAAT gave away another $1.8 million in the form of six different research grants, including the awards made to the former advisors: four to study smoking cessation in adults, or the effects of nicotine dependence; and two to investigate smoking among Hmong and American Indian youth.

According to a June 1999 auditor's report, the nonprofit spent most of its infancy getting set up and drafting a mission statement. (The report notes that the agency spent more than $431,000 on "consultant fees," but provides no specifics.) MPAAT also received a donation of 1.4 million Nicotrol patches, distributed through HealthSystem Minnesota to 94 clinics, social-service agencies, and pharmacies.  

Also during its first two years, MPAAT spent a lot of time dealing with turnover among board members. Initially, Rice says, the board tried to meet once a month, but many appointees found the schedule too time-consuming. "Clearly, the board is in a new phase of strategic direction and organization of agenda-setting, social action, and changing policies," says Rice, conceding that so far MPAAT has concentrated mostly on organizing. "It's something that's not easy to figure out."

And, she adds, MPAAT's snail's pace allows the agency to be cautious. "What we really are conscious of is accountability," says Rice. "It's extremely important for a board like this to remain independent. We don't want a one-size-fits-all approach in deciding which communities need help targeting Big Tobacco. We can take a little time to decide what we want to do, and we are quite stringent with the money. We just want to be good stewards."

Of course, it's going to be hard to assess how prudently the nonprofit spends its share of the settlement dollars. "MPAAT was purely a creation of Skip Humphrey's," says Senator Neuville. The settlement "should have come in to the state treasurer, as a way to ensure that the money came under some state control. That nonprofit is not consistent with what the Legislature [wanted] to do with the money. We were never given the opportunity to approve it, never given the chance to [debate] diversion of money into a private nonprofit."

Neuville admits that he and his fellow lawmakers failed to make an issue out of MPAAT at the outset. He was, he says, too busy losing the debate over creating the $1 billion endowment, and later with questioning the amounts paid to Blue Cross and to Mike Ciresi's trial team. "Nobody decided to take up the cause," he laments, "because it wasn't the most pressing need at the time.

"The existence of [MPAAT] should have been challenged legally already," the senator concludes, adding that he believes Minnesota may be squandering its best opportunity to help residents become tobacco-free. "I wouldn't be surprised if in ten years nothing has changed."

 

In contrast to the confusion over MPAAT's makeup and mission, the goals for the endowment--the trust fund that accrues and pays out interest on the state's chunk of the tobacco settlement--were supposed to be crystal clear. The interest on $590 million--more than half the up-front money--goes to the state Department of Health to dole out to local programs. Health and education officials throughout the state celebrated, convinced that financial help was on the way.

Last January Susan Carstens and Phil Johnson, an administrator and an officer, respectively, with the Crystal Police Department, came up with a plan they thought would mesh nicely with the grant guidelines they'd heard about from the health department. Together with five other police departments in northern suburbs, along with the Robbinsdale School District, North Memorial Hospital, and, for good measure, the American Cancer Society, they took aim at teen smoking. Crystal police agreed to volunteer their own time to take turns patrolling in search of teen smokers. With grant money, Carstens and Johnson wanted to send the kids they busted to four hours of free tobacco-awareness classes in lieu of a court appearance. Participants would emerge with clean juvenile records.

"We heard about funding coming from the state, and that anybody could apply, and we figured we had a good plan," says the stocky, affable Johnson. Under the existing system, he notes, a kid caught smoking would pay a $25 fine for a first offense, and up to $100 for subsequent citations. "What we wanted to do was make the officers the good guy in the community and have them talk to the kids about smoking, rather than fear us as guys who just write tickets."

He and Carstens attended a three-day state conference that explained how the tobacco money would be made available. "We thought we had good ideas, and they were integrated with the school and some public-health institutions, so we figured we were the perfect candidate to get tobacco money from the state," Carstens recounts. "But then we were told we didn't qualify." After spending weeks trying to figure out why they were ineligible, the two were told that all the tobacco money in Hennepin County would have to be overseen and spent by the county health department.

"This flew in the face of what we learned in the conference," Johnson says angrily. "Suddenly the county had to be a partner, and we were told to not even apply. Things were suddenly very nebulous.

"I'm not concerned that we were jilted," he continues. "The bigger picture lies in the process: The county was set for this. Who would take the time and money to draft a proposal if you know you are not going to get it?"  

Janelle Waldock, tobacco coordinator for the Hennepin County Department of Health, says she understands the confusion. In her view, the misunderstanding stems from the fact that the state's rules say grant recipients must have a local "community health service" partner. Though the state doesn't specify what kind of agency that is, Hennepin County says the health department determines who gets the grants and serves as the partner for every recipient.

The county has just begun receiving money from the state, says Waldock. The first installment of a projected $1.2 million will be spent by the health department itself over the next two years. To date, the department has hired two staffers to act as liaisons between the county and local groups; two more will be hired later. "On our end, I wouldn't say it's been expedient," Waldock concedes, adding that the state didn't approve the county's grants until last month. "It's a new course. The experience here [since the settlement] was that money was falling off the trees, but we are now in the reality-check phase."

Ramsey County, meanwhile, has opted to stay out of the fiscal-agent game, deferring instead to the American Lung Association. "We've been told by the state that the money will come between now and December 31, 2001," reports Rob Fulton, director of Ramsey County's health department. "There is this consortium getting the grant, and then it will decide on mini-grants to the community." The county's total share, $841,000, is committed to plans that involve schools, community programs, the St. Paul Police Department, and the American Lung Association.

Fulton is reluctant to criticize the state's process, and he's optimistic that the money will be used to combat smoking among youths. But he concedes that Ramsey County's take seems pretty small, especially compared with the $8.2 million the state has set aside for Target Market. "Would we like more money?" he asks. "Wouldn't you?"

State health department documents show that more than $19 million in interest from the endowment has been budgeted for state and local agencies for an 18-month period that began last summer and runs through 2001. "This was a large sum, and it was important that we be very careful how we distributed it," says Mary Sheehan, the department's acting director of Community Health Services. "Having said that, I never have seen this much money get out the door so quickly."

The amount of money and the speed with which it has moved out the door is exactly what has Neuville concerned. "I don't think anyone wants to see young people smoke, but the endowment is just a ridiculous amount of money to be spent only on tobacco," he maintains, adding that he'd like to see portions spent on health care and education.

Randy Kirkendall, tobacco prevention and control manager for the state health department, agrees that the sum is so huge that officials have the luxury of thinking of new ways to fight smoking. "There's a big difference now compared to what we could do in the 1980s, just because there's more money," he says. "And it's become clear from looking at other states that the key now is getting youth involved."

 

In April health officials, marketing gurus, and 400 teenagers gathered at the Kelly Inn in St. Cloud for a three-day conference dubbed the Kick Ash Bash. Ostensibly, it was to be a coming-together for all those who wished to battle teen smoking in the state. But it was punctuated by a partylike atmosphere--kids attended dances at night--and some sly marketing gimmicks. Gov. Jesse Ventura turned up and engaged in a smackdown over the phone with an executive from the nation's third-largest tobacco firm, Brown & Williamson. There were appearances by a popular Miami DJ, the Minnesota band Fade2Shade, the Minnesota comedy troupe Comedy Sportz, and Jason from MTV's Real World: Boston.

The attendees chose a name for the anti-teen-smoking campaign that the state planned to fund with some of the interest on the endowment; the moniker Target Market beat out Reality Check, The Movement, and A Generation Not for Sale.

Many of those present recall that the occasion was marked by the excitement and promise of battling Big Tobacco. "The energy was really intense," Hennepin County's Waldock remembers. "With 400 kids being around, it was clear that it was not just the student-council types anymore."

Joe Loveland, a marketing director for the state health department, has a similar recollection. "We wanted to reach out to kids on a grassroots level," he says. "We wanted a program that we could market to kids, but we also wanted a big part of that to be education."  

In theory, Target Market is a Minnesota Department of Health program to give an antismoking voice to kids 12 to 18 years old through a "youth-led, adult-guided brand name" that will be employed in an ad campaign and a grassroots organizing drive. The ad campaign, modeled on a similar effort in Florida, was launched in May, and consists of radio spots, television commercials, billboards, and Web postings (www.tmvoice.com). The message is intended to be shocking and self-referential, and to provide a stark contrast to the antiquated antismoking campaigns of the past.

The ad campaign will have a projected budget of $8.2 million during its first 18 months. According to state health department documents, the money is going to Minneapolis ad firm Campbell Mithun and the Shandwick International public-relations firm in Bloomington. Target Market itself will receive an additional $1.1 million of endowment money to fund its organizing campaign. "TM," as the effort has been "branded," employs ten staffers who travel to middle schools and high schools to sign up student members. To date, 15,000 teens have been recruited as volunteers.

The Target Market headquarters, situated on University Avenue just east of Highway 280 in St. Paul, is spacious yet homey--not unlike the offices of an enormous high school yearbook staff, if that staff were graced with stylish wood desks, snazzy computers, laptops, and other high-tech gadgetry. The walls are lined with posters of pop icons such as Kevin Garnett and Rage Against the Machine, as well as parodies of Big Tobacco advertising. One ad depicts the Marlboro Man as an impotent loner. Also on prominent display are plays on the covers of publications that continue to carry advertising for tobacco products, including a mock City Pages logo that has been doctored to read "Cigy Pages."

St. Paul native Jim Audette is Target Market's executive director. A round-faced, youthful 32-year-old, Audette previously worked for the Texas Department of Health but returned to the Twin Cities in search of a career in marketing. Given his grasp of marketing strategies and distaste for Big Tobacco, he seems like a perfect fit for Target Market.

Audette supervises a staff of adults, but he also has 40 teenagers who act as a sounding board, a creative committee that approves Target Market's every move. "We understand that it doesn't work to bring in an authority figure who says, 'Don't smoke, Johnny,'" Audette ventures. "We are radically different. We don't do what has been done in the last 15 years. We want to convince kids that the true rebellion is against adults who want them to smoke. This is a social movement of teens sharing information. This is nothing more than a media literacy campaign."

Audette knows Target Market is in for an uphill battle. He readily concedes that his budgeted millions don't come close to what Big Tobacco spends annually--tens of billions of dollars nationwide, most of it on advertising. "That's why we want to take our movement directly to kids in middle schools and high schools," he explains. "Some state legislators have said tobacco prevention doesn't work, no matter what you spend. We want to prove them wrong."

So far, he says, public response to Target Market has veered from passionately positive to viscerally negative to simply befuddled. "Some people say the billboards don't make sense," he says of the campaign's first round, which consisted of quotes from tobacco executives and secret marketing memos, as well as catchy slogans that were cryptically attributed to "Target Market." "That was meant to be a teaser campaign." A second round of billboards is popping up around the state this fall.

Whatever its impact may be, Target Market remains the only tangible use of the tobacco settlement fund to date.

 

On a damp, drizzly October morning, on 16th Street North, between Aldrich and Bryant avenues in north Minneapolis, a rented Ryder 18-wheeler idles loudly, wrapped in black canvas decorated with a white "TM" logo. What's inside the trailer looks like an exhibit at the science museum: video cameras and television screens. A mock TV-show set featuring fake telephone poles covered in facsimiles of real tobacco-company documents, and "Did You Know?" Sheetrock signs referencing the 33 million pages of internal memos Big Tobacco was made to turn over during the trial. The walls are peppered with tobacco-logo parodies, from "Tarlboro" to "Chokenhagen."

The truck is a crucial element in Target Market's current media-literacy campaign. Until Thanksgiving, the big rig will travel to middle schools and junior highs around the state on what's being called the Tobacco Documents tour.

Today the tour comes to Minneapolis's Franklin Middle School, where a group of about 250 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, mostly black, are sitting on the hardwood floor of the basketball court watching a slide presentation that depicts the deceits and horrors inflicted on children by tobacco companies. The students fidget and chatter loudly as Patrick and Amy, a pair of attractive, twentyish, spokesmodel sorts, struggle to connect with them. Shandwick International hired Patrick and Amy from a modeling agency in town.  

Most of the stumping goes unheard until Jonathan Berry, the school's administrative assistant, grabs the microphone from Patrick and sternly tells the group to show respect and listen or get sent back to class. "Thank you," Patrick says without missing a beat. But there's still too much noise in the gym, and silence falls only when Berry finally ejects a student.

"Now, can anyone tell me at what age it's legal to smoke?" Patrick soldiers on. "Eighteen," about a third of the kids mutter. It's the only response he gets during the 20-minute presentation.

Then it's out to the truck for the kids, shuttled through in groups of ten. This cycle will go on nearly all day. The first two groups split off, with one going to the front of the trailer, the other being crammed toward the back. In the front, Amy tells the students they will be able to say something directly to tobacco executives, and if Target Market likes what they say, there's a good chance it will end up in a TV commercial someday. (Later she clarifies: In order to actually be featured in a spot, kids must sign up as a Target Market volunteer.) As the group moves in front of a video camera perched on top of a TV set, a hushed awe fills the truck.

The kids are transfixed at the sight of themselves on TV. Amy asks who wants to go first, but the middle-schoolers don't seem to grasp what's expected of them, so she picks someone: a heavy-set girl named Nicole, the only white kid in the group.

"Tell them what you told me," Amy instructs. "Pretend that the camera is Big Tobacco." The girl mutters something about how "they" should stop selling cigarettes to children. "No, don't say it in the third person," Amy interrupts. "Say, 'I want you to stop targeting people who are too young to smoke.'" Mission accomplished in the second take. "Excellent!" Amy cries.

Then the spokesmodel picks out a small black boy wearing a red Cleveland Indians shirt. "I bet you like Randy Moss," she says to the boy, who nods and announces that his name is Corey. "Step up in front of the camera and talk to Big Tobacco," Amy tells him. "Now I want you to say, 'My name is Corey, and I like football, but if you start smoking, you won't be able to run.'" The boy balks. No sell. Amy tries again. "Or maybe you should say, 'If you think I'll start smoking, you can kiss my ash!'" The group gasps with delight.

At the back of the truck, Alyssa, a tenth-grader from Patrick Henry High School and one of Target Market's teen advisors, operates a couple of VCRs and TV monitors showing the latest round of Target Market commercials. The kids watch attentively through some of the spots, most of which feature a metal/hip-hop soundtrack and catchy graphics bearing quotes from tobacco-company documents. After a few of these, Alyssa addresses the kids: "Your school is like my school, in that there are a lot of African-American students like you and me. This is why I want you to watch this next ad very closely."

When the tape plays, a close-up of a black teenage boy fills the screen. He reads aloud from a tobacco document: "When an R. J. Reynolds executive was asked why he didn't smoke, he said, 'We reserve that right for the poor, the black, and the stupid.'" Here the kid pauses and looks up at the camera. "Nothin' like gettin' busted by your own words, huh?" he says.

The reaction to the ad is stunned silence. It's an effective spot. But the mood is quickly pierced when a teacher from Franklin Middle School announces that the tour is over for these groups and it's time to return to class. Volunteers hand the kids information packets as they file out of the trailer into a light drizzle, cross the parking lot, and head back to school.

 

Correction published 11/22/2000:
Owing to a reporting error, this story understated the amount of money the nation's largest tobacco companies spend on advertising. The actual figure is in the billions of dollars, not millions. The above version of the story reflects the corrected text. City Pages regrets the error.


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