Truth Initiative, the nonprofit organization behind the award-winning national youth tobacco prevention campaign, truth, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year so it seemed like a good time to catch up with Christy Hartsell, vice president of corporate partnerships and co-marketing.
While the youth smoking rate dropped to historic lows – today 5.4 percent (about 1.3 million) of American teens smoke – e-cigarettes may be turning back the clock on progress in the fight against tobacco and addicting a new generation to nicotine, with the Surgeon General declaring the rise in youth vaping an “epidemic” last year.
Additionally, Truth Initiative, in collaboration with the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Ad Council, launched an opioid public education and prevention truth campaign last year focused on preventing and reducing misuse of opioids among youth and young adults.
As the vice president of corporate partnerships and co-marketing at Truth Initiative, Christy Hartsell is responsible for engaging companies to help amplify the organization’s work and provide funding to support the mission. Christy brings a track record of media and nonprofit experience to her role at Truth Initiative. She previously led corporate relations at the National Park Foundation and the USO. Additionally, Christy helped the field staff at the American Heart Association build corporate partnerships to help create heathy lives, free of cardiovascular disease and strokes.
Let’s jump in to our Take 5 interview with Christy to learn more about her and the major impact Truth Initiative is having on reducing youth smoking through their innovative campaigns, partnerships, and advocacy efforts.
What do you see being the focus in corporate philanthropy in 2019? We’re seeing more and more companies breaking down internal silos and pursuing coordinated efforts between philanthropy, CSR and marketing – resulting in laser-focused cause strategies and a non-wavering commitment to priorities. We are also seeing companies come together for the common good to address issues important to our country – from natural disasters to social issues – such as the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge and the CEO Pledge to End Addiction led by Leidos.
What do you wish people knew about Truth Initiative’s innovative efforts to create the first tobacco-free generation? Our target youth audience is ever-evolving, and we are constantly changing our campaign strategies in order to stay relevant to pop culture and resonate with youth. With the youth smoking rate at a record-low of 5.4 percent, I am proud to say that we have had a major impact through this innovative approach.
For example, while tobacco remains the number one cause of preventable death, only half of Americans ranked smoking as a serious public health problem. truth’s #CATmageddon campaign showed teens that smoking is a problem that impacts them now (and is one they can solve), because not only is smoking fatal to them, it can harm their pets, as pets whose owners smoke are twice as likely to get cancer. So, smoking = no cats. No cats = no cat videos. Teens responded in a big way, watching the video 207+ million times and using the #CATmageddon hashtag 77,000+ times.
Additionally, in a previous Truth Initiative study, research pointed to the mass appeal of music, the influence of social media music artists and the potential of content to virally extend the campaign’s message across platforms. To capitalize on these insights, the team created an original song and music video performed by social media artists, which was launched across TV, social media and radio. “Left Swipe ‘Dat,” a music video released at the Grammy’s in 2015, tapped into the impact that tobacco has on teen dating and relationships. Profile pictures on dating apps that include smoking get rejected with “left swipes” almost twice as often as those that do not. The video used humor to deliver the message that tobacco is not only deadly, it’s also unattractive, and was rolled out with a public relations campaign that helped propel #LeftSwipeDat to worldwide top trending status twice during its premiere on the Grammy Awards. The music video has been viewed online more than 39 million times.
#CATmageddon and “Left Swipe ‘Dat” are just two examples of how truth has used new ways of thinking to tie the negative effects of tobacco use to what is important to teens’ lives now to help create the first tobacco-free generation. Since inception, we have been dedicated to speaking, seeking and spreading the truth about tobacco through education, in innovative ways that captivate a young audience and inspires them to take action and join our mission.
What is Truth Initiative doing to address the e-cigarette epidemic and opioid misuse among young adults? According to the most recent National Youth Tobacco Survey, e-cigarette use increased by 78 percent among high school students and 48 percent among middle schoolers in just one year, making it clear that we have a serious problem on our hands.
What’s more worrisome is that according to a recent Truth Initiative study, 63 percent of people who use JUUL, the most popular e-cigarettes, did not know that this product always contains nicotine. Yet, the JUUL device delivers nicotine up to 2.7 times faster than other e-cigarettes, and as previously stated on the product website, the nicotine content of a single JUULpod, or cartridge, is equivalent to the nicotine content in one pack of cigarettes (or 20 cigarettes).
More than 3.6 million youth who use e-cigarettes are now vulnerable to long-term nicotine addiction, as young adults who use e-cigarettes are more than four times as likely to begin smoking tobacco cigarettes within 18 months compare to their peers who do not vape.
Due to these alarming statistics and the rapid increase in e-cigarette use, we expanded our already-successful digital cessation programs — This is Quitting and BecomeAnEX® — to include a first-of-its-kind e-cigarette quit program. The text message program features specific messaging tailored by age group to give appropriate recommendations about quitting while also serving as a resource for parents looking to help their children who vape but now want to quit. This program was recently announced on the TODAY Show, introducing the resource to millions of viewers looking for help to quit vaping through broadcast and online coverage.
Another epidemic that is currently devastating our country is the opioid crisis, the U.S. consumes more prescription opioids than any other nation in the world. In the past year, 2.5 million young adults aged 18-25 have misused opioids, and, every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on the drugs. Truth Initiative expanded its mission last year with an opioid education and prevention campaign designed to help young people understand the facts about opioids, the risk of addiction and the crucial role young people can play in solving the crisis within their communities. Given the recognition and credibility of the truth brand and our outstanding record of success in decreasing the youth smoking rate, we are uniquely qualified to make an impact on the opioid epidemic.
We collaborated with the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Ad Council to develop and launch an opioid public education and prevention truth campaign, The Truth About Opioids, focused on preventing and reducing misuse of opioids among youth and young adults. We recently announced a wonderful partnership with Leidos which is supporting our campaign and leading the CEO Pledge to End Opioid Addiction. Join us!
From your experience, what is the biggest challenge facing companies today when activating a national cause campaign? Gaining visibility is a huge challenge. Too often, companies build a campaign and hope that consumers will come without putting marketing dollars behind it. The most successful cause campaigns I’ve seen treat it like the launch of a new product or for-profit campaign– they really get behind it from a marketing perspective.
Who has had the most influence on your cause career? I was inspired by Nancy Jeffett, co-founder of the Maureen Connolly Brinker Tennis Foundation (MCBTF). Her organization provided travel grants to junior tennis players and has evolved to an international organization that supports junior tennis players all over the world. She passed away in 2017 after a life as one of the most influential women in tennis. I was personally the beneficiary of several travel grants from the MCBTF as a junior tennis player. When I began exploring career opportunities as a young girl, Nancy’s organization planted a seed for me to consider a similar path. It took me about 20 years to find my way into the nonprofit space, but I got here. I am eternally grateful for her support.
Five Fun Facts About Christy:
- Favorite App: FitBit
- Last Book Read: Grit to Great: How Perseverance, Passion, and Pluck Take You from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Robin Koval (Truth Initiative CEO) and Linda Kaplan Thaler
- Hobby: Collecting period antiques, traveling
- Favorite Place to Unwind: Sitting in an Adirondack chair in the square at National Harbor after biking there
- Guilty Pleasure: Watching the latest Netflix series
Thank you Christy for taking the time to talk with us! To learn more about Truth Initiative and learn how you can get involved, visit them here.