120 teen leaders from New York State took on Altria Group executives and shareholders on May 16th. Their actions, centered outside the Richmond Convention Center, Richmond, Virginia, and areas nearby, focused on why the tobacco giant baited consumers and public health officials with the promise of withdrawing pod-based nicotine products from the market in order to combat teen vaping use, and then switched  their priorities by investing $12.8 billion in e-cigarette company Juul Labs. The teens represent Reality Check of New York.

Altria says they don’t want to harm teens, yet they invest in wildly popular youth e-cigarette brand Juul, a product known for using flavor pods that attract youth.

“Altria blamed nicotine pods and fruity flavors for fueling a surge in teen vaping,” said Jonathan Chaffee, coordinator of the Reality Check program of Tobacco-Free Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties (TF-CCA). “If that’s the case, then why did they invest in Juul, the company that made these types of e-cigarettes so popular?”

“Despite what they say, Altria spends billions marketing their deadly products right in front of us, first cigarettes and now Juul” said Olivia Lang, Olean High School Senior and Reality Check champion. “Their goal is to create a new generation of customers, just in a different product!”

The teens  dressed in waders and carried fishing poles with a fresh catch of Juul nicotine pods and Marlboro cigarettes hanging from them. They want Altria executives, as well as the entire tobacco industry, to know that they won’t be “Fuuled” by Big Tobacco investment in Juul and will continue to carry out the awareness-raising work they start in Richmond in their communities back home.

Reality Check youth will not be lured by Altria’s marketing tactics.

FACT: Use of e-cigarettes by high school students increased 78% from 2017-2018. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this rise is  due to the popularity of JUUL. a trendy device shaped like a USB flash drive. They are easy to hide, have a high nicotine content, and come in fruit, candy and other flavors that appeal to youth. That is why Altria bought a 35 percent stake in Juul for $12.8 billion in December 2018. And that is why we fight in Richmond, and why our youth will take this fight into their home communities to educate their schools, parents and peers on the health problems that come with regular vaping. Won’t you join our fight?

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