December 01, 2023

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Don’t Burn It Campaign Takes A Different Approach Toward Teen Smoking

By Sarah M.

When Margaret Reid explains how the “Don’t Burn It” campaign differs from other anti-smoking campaigns she includes a somewhat surprising twist about the amount of information DBI chose to leave out. Reid, Director of the Division of Healthy Homes and Community Supports at the Boston Public Health Commission, describes how the decision was made to exclude many of the most insulting and controversial quotes from the big tobacco companies from the ads.

An example of this can be found on the DBI website where they quote an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company executive as saying “We don’t smoke that s***t. We just sell it.” What the campaign website does not include is that the same executive goes on to say that the tobacco company reserves the “right” of smoking their products for “the young, the poor, the black, and the stupid.”

“Ultimately we’re still dealing with youth and some of what they say is really painful,” Reid says, “ and we had real debates with our campaign office about some ofthe stuff that was in original drafts that we felt was just too full of hate [to include in the campaign].” In describing why many of the worst things tobacco execs said did not end up on the DBI billboards that pepper T stations and the sides of busses, she also illustrates exactly what it is that makes the Don’t Burn It campaign different from any other before it: its target audience.

“Don’t Burn It”, a new campaign by the BPHC, aims to reduce teen usage of flavored cigars and cigarillos by focusing on the amount of money teens regularly spendon the products. The first image on the campaign’s website,, shows 15 packs of flavored cigars next to a large equals symbol and a pair of new sneakers. The next image in the slideshow explains that buying three packs of flavored cigars a week equates to the price of a new laptop in one year.

Black and Latino male youth are the audience that this campaign is aimed at and Reid reveals that this was something she had to remind herself to focus on throughout the creation of the campaign. “Our Creative Director has a sign on her door that says ‘You Are Not The Target Audience,’” laughs Reid, “so whenever we go into her office to complain we get the sign.”

Part of targeting this audience is a partnership with local hip-hop radio JAM’N 94.5. The contest offers a chance to win a party with radio DJs Ramiro and Pebbles forthe Boston Public High School that gets the most students to sign a pledge not to buy flavored tobacco products.

Whether or not the new campaign will be successful is yet to be seen but the words of one local teen give hope. “Does it make want to stop [smoking]?” questioned Fernando T., 17 of Dorchester. “Honestly?” he admitted, “yeah, sometimes.” And that’s an admission that could signal a huge change in the health of Boston’s youth.

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