School Boards Association Steps Away From Tobacco Industry Partnership

Facing criticism after partnering with R.J. Reynolds on an anti-tobacco effort, the National School Boards Association dropped the collaboration just five days after announcing it.

It was a partnership that wasn’t built to last.

This week, the National School Boards Association took a step back from one of its most recent collaborations—an anti-smoking campaign with tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds—just days after announcing the partnership to the public.

The reason? Strong public criticism, particularly from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who urged the association to drop the campaign, which he saw as a transparent PR move by the company.

When other issues arose and debate started generating around [the partnership], it made sense for us to back out of that relationship.

“Using the message that kids need to wait until they are adults to use tobacco products in effect dares or invites them to begin smoking now,” Blumenthal said Monday, according to The Hill. “Big Tobacco’s goal in this deal is to promote smoking, not prevent it.”

When the announcement caught the public’s eye, R.J. Reynolds officials emphasized that their “Right Decisions Right Now” (RDRN) program is effective at preventing youths from smoking.

“Evidence-based programs like ours are very important in the fight against youth tobacco use, and I’d like to see RDRN in every health class in the country,” Laura Leigh Oyler, the company’s lead on youth tobacco prevention efforts, said in a statement. “This program speaks to teens in a way that makes sense to them, and it teaches them about self-esteem and ways to say no.”

But the campaign wasn’t seen that way by the public—particularly by critics of the industry—and just five days after making the announcement, NSBA pulled out of the plan. In comments on the change, NSBA Executive Director Tom Gentzel emphasized that the partnership, which included a financial component, was not an endorsement of the tobacco company; rather, the association believed the plan dovetailed with existing NSBA anti-tobacco efforts.

“I just want to emphasize that our beliefs and policies as an association talk at some length about promoting tobacco-free schools and the health and well-being of children. We’re deeply committed to that, and that’s the reason we engaged in this partnership,” Gentzel told The Huffington Post. “When other issues arose and debate started generating around it, it made sense for us to back out of that relationship.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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