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Young activists gather virtually for Moment of Truth

Young activists from across the country came together for a virtual gathering called Moment of Truth to speak out against the destructive effects tobacco and vaping companies have had on public health and the environment, and for their predatory marketing practices that have disproportionately impacted Black Americans and other communities of color.

We inherited a world on fire

“We inherited a world on fire,” said Bridget Todd, activist, podcast host and moderator of Moment of Truth, who led the truth® youth activists through polls, chat boxes, and video chats at the November 18 event. “We know that the vaping and tobacco industries continue to harm the environment with toxic waste, damage our mental health, and undermine social justice efforts… but we’re fighting back.”

The event follows the latest truth campaign, Read Between the Lies, which called to end Big Tobacco’s racism. Led and promoted by Black voices, the campaign features videos of people reading and reacting to actual quotes from tobacco industry executives revealing the deliberate and exploitive ways they target the Black community.

As youth vaping remains at epidemic levels and amid evidence that teens and young adults who vape are at significantly higher risk of testing positive for COVID-19 compared to those who don’t vape, the tobacco industry has continued its shameless protection of profits at the expense of people’s lives. The e-cigarette Puff Bar, which comes in many flavors and is not subject to the new partial ban on flavored e-cigarettes because it is a disposable device, appeared to be capitalizing on the pandemic by marketing to kids in their bedrooms.

“We need champions and decision makers at every level of government to help us push back the forces of Big Tobacco,” said truth Ambassador alumni and youth liaison to the Truth Initiative board of directors Gianna Darville in an introduction of Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois, who addressed the activists via video message. Rep. Krishnamoorthi has called on the Food and Drug Administration to immediately remove Puff Bar from the market because of its marketing tactics and has chaired congressional hearings to investigate JUUL and its role in the youth e-cigarette epidemic.

“I’m thrilled to be part of this important virtual program and I am pleased to express my support for your work fighting the influence of big tobacco and stemming the tide of the opioid epidemic,” Krishnamoorthi told the youth activists in attendance. “This issue, to me, is not just about shaping a world free from toxins, it is about ensuring the health and safety of our loved ones, especially our young people.”

Participants shared ways they’d shape a world free from its toxins – including receiving money for collecting tobacco waste similar to soda can collections. Other suggestions included increasing in company taxes, charging tobacco and vaping companies per non-degradable product and collaborating with lawmakers who value the environment. Cigarette butts are still the most littered item in the country and the waste from cigarettes and e-cigarettes can leach toxic chemicals into the environment, leading to land, water and air pollution.

My advice as you take on these issues is, you don’t need to take them on alone

Youth activists also heard from former Truth Initiative intern and truth Ambassador Lincoln Mondy about his activism and documentary film “Black Lives / Black Lungs,” which investigates the tobacco industry’s infiltration into the Black community with menthol tobacco products.

“My advice as you take on these issues is, you don’t need to take them on alone,” Mondy said. “Ask for help and collaborate when you can.”

Moment of Truth followed last year’s National Day of Action protest that took place outside of JUUL’s Washington, D.C. office, where activists rallied for their peers to ditch JUUL and for the Food and Drug Administration to remove flavored e-cigarettes, including mint and menthol, and do its job of regulating the products. Moment of Truth participants committed to standing up and speaking out against vaping and tobacco’s harmful practices and by signing a pledge and recruiting five friends to join the fight.