Supporting Advocacy in the Halls of Power: Campaign for Tobacco Free-Kids

By Kate Austin, Senior Director

Amplifying our clients’ voices during Maryland’s annual General Assembly is a specialty of The Hatcher Group – and, to be honest, it’s one of our favorite tactics. With only 90 days to act on more than 2,000 bills, including the state’s annual budget, session work is fast-paced, exciting, and deeply fulfilling. Whether passing new legislation or drawing attention to important issues impacting the environment, economic opportunity, social justice, education, or public health, we are grateful for the opportunity to put our expertise to work in improving the lives of our fellow Marylanders on behalf of our incredible nonprofit clients.

During the 2020 General Assembly, and now, the 2021 General Assembly, Hatcher has had the privilege of working with a coalition of tobacco control advocates, led by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in their efforts to pass legislation ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Maryland, including e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, and smokeless tobacco.

Flavored tobacco products are designed to lure kids into a lifelong struggle with addiction, hooking them on products targeted specifically to them in flavors that mask the harshness of tobacco, like minty menthol, glazed donut, gummy bear, and cotton candy. Currently, a staggering 23% of Maryland high school students use e-cigarettes, a rate five times higher than adult use, and 80% of teens who have ever used tobacco started with a flavored product.

Of equal importance is the devastating impact menthol flavored tobacco has had on Black and Brown communities. For decades, the tobacco industry has targeted these communities with their predatory marketing of flavored tobacco products, namely menthol cigarettes. As a result, 85% of all Black smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, resulting in a disproportionate burden of tobacco-related disease and death.

The coalition’s message for Maryland lawmakers: It’s Maryland’s time to act. Entirely removing flavored tobacco products from the market is the only way to stop Big Tobacco from exploiting our kids and Black and Brown lives for profit.

Supported by earned media, social media, design, and strategy assistance from Hatcher, legislation ending the sale of flavored tobacco had strong support during the 2020 General Assembly. We helped coalition members and advocates amplify their message using trusted, strategically placed messengers during bill hearings, through opinion pieces in major publications, and a coordinated, dynamic social media campaign. To garner positive media coverage, we executed a high-profile press conference featuring Maryland’s Attorney General and covered by over a dozen media outlets across the region. Though COVID-19 cut short the 2020 legislative session and with it the chance of the bill becoming law, the coalition set the stage for future legislative action in 2021.

Darryl Barnes, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, speaks in support of a ban on flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, during a news conference in Annapolis.

With a renewed sense of urgency given the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the lungs, the coalition, with support from Hatcher, is again pushing forward with their campaign to educate, motivate, and mobilize lawmakers, the media, and supporters to ban flavored tobacco in Maryland. While new restrictions on in-person advocacy will change where and how we help our clients build momentum for their issues in 2021 – think virtual days of action, remote press conferences, and pre-recorded testimony – the Hatcher fundamentals of good advocacy communications and our commitment to our clients will remain the same.

To learn more about the campaign to end flavored tobacco in Maryland, visit: https://flavorshookkidsmaryland.org/ or follow the campaign on Twitter.

No cause is too big – or too small. Let Hatcher develop a communications plan to support your advocacy goals and your budget.

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