The Truth About American Legacy by Nancy Lewis

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The American Legacy Foundation is a rare example of a public charity being born with a silver spoon. Even before it began operating in 1999, the foundation was bequeathed more than $1 billion from the settlement of a massive lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of 46 states against the country’s major tobacco companies. That money is part of billions of dollars that the tobacco companies paid, basically as reparations, for the damage their products wreaked on the public. The foundation was conceived as an antidote to that past. Tasked to target teen smoking, its mandated anti-tobacco campaigns were seen as the best way to prevent a heavy tobacco-related health toll in the future. For the first few years, it seemed a great success. The foundation rolled out hard-hitting and ubiquitous advertising, known as “the truth” campaign. Perhaps the most famous ad, broadcast repeatedly during the 2000 Olympics, had an urban guerilla bent, with workers emptying trucks of 1,200 body bags and dumping them outside the headquarters of Philip Morris in New York, representing the number of Americans who die each day because of tobacco use. On the heels of this and other anti-tobacco efforts, teen smoking dropped from 36 percent in 1997, a year before the tobacco case settlement, to below 22 percent in 2003. American Legacy was given much of the credit – and continues to cite the statistic – although the smoking rate overall had been going downhill since the first U.S. surgeon general’s warning about smoking in the 1960s. There were heady predictions of a tobacco-free generation resulting from the foundation’s efforts. Then the magic stopped working so well. Since 2003, teen smoking rates have hovered around 22 percent, even as adult smoking has continued to dwindle (to under 20 percent now). After the final really big tobacco payment of $307.9 million came that year (under the Master Settlement), “the truth” campaign continued on a much smaller scale. But despite spending less...
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