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USA: Kool’s “Be True” funding
  1. M JANE LEWIS1,
  2. OLIVIA WACKOWSKI2
  1. 1 lewismj{at}umdnj.edu
  2. UMDNJ-School of Public Health, New Jersey; USA; wackowol{at}umdnj.edu

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    Health professionals have not been the only ones busy writing grants recently. This summer, Reynolds America’s Kool brand offered young adult smokers a chance to compete for either 10,000 or 2,500 US dollars in “business grants”. The stated intention of its programme, called the “Be True Grant Fund”, was to help “entrepreneurs achieve their ambitions and contribute to their communities”. The programme, along with Kool’s “Art of Business Seminars” currently running in US cities, was tied in with Kool’s current “Be True” cigarette brand promotion campaign, which emphasises creativity, originality and staying connected with one’s “roots”.


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    USA: Kool "Be True Grant Fund" promotional brochure found in a bar outside New York City. Other participating cities include Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Charlotte, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Oakland/San Francisco and Washington DC. Image courtesy of Trinkets and Trash (www.trinketsandtrash.org).

    To be eligible for a “Be True” grant, applicants must reside in one of 10 participating major US cities, be under the age of 36, and certify that they are smokers. Non-smoking entrepreneurs who want to achieve their ambitions need not apply, but that might not be relevant since the promotion provides plenty of opportunities for interested non-smokers to become smokers. Promotional materials, such as brochures found in bars, direct potential applicants to Kool’s website, www.kool.com, a promotional site full of young and urban themed interactive features, to access the grant guidelines and application forms. However, entry into the password-protected website comes only after registration, a tactic which conveniently provides KOOL with yet more names for its extensive direct marketing databases, as well as permission to contact the individuals in the future.

    In addition to providing information about the grant, the Kool website also advertises a series of Kool sponsored “business seminars” purportedly designed to help the young adults “take their business ideas to the next level”. Images of these seminars on the site, however, suggest that they also provide an unhealthy dose of Kool marketing (with prominently placed Kool signage) to a largely African American audience, indicating continued marketing of menthol cigarettes to minorities. The website also points out that work without play is no fun, and thus the seminars are followed by after-seminar parties that seem certain to be another hot spot for tobacco promotions.

    While Kool may indicate that it is merely trying to help people “realise their dreams”, the characteristics of the promotion suggest the dawn of yet another strategy for reaching young adult and minority smokers. For a relatively low cost (including a total grant award expenditure of $125,000), the brand earns new philanthropic credibility with its target audience, while marketing to them and collecting their contact and smoking preference information for future marketing efforts. Ironically, pack-a-day smokers could save approximately $2,050 towards their business dreams (based on the average pack of cigarettes in the USA) by stopping smoking for a year.

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