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Connecting the Dots: How Tobacco Industry Image-Polishing Impacts Policy

Tobacco companies use sponsorships, donations, ads, and paid media to promote their agenda and to try to change their image. Recently, we've seen an increase in tobacco companies' use of sponsored content and other paid media, which gives the companies the chance to spread their messages without the burden of fact.

At the same time it works to polish its image, the tobacco industry uses lobbyists, lawyers, and disinformation campaigns to try to weaken tobacco laws. These efforts have real impact on public policy at the state and local level.

Join us to learn about this growing threat and how people are fighting it on the local, state, and national level.

Watch the video on YouTube


Dr. Barbara Schillo has over 25 years of experience in conducting applied research, managing research and public health programs and leading organizational management.

As a senior vice president at Truth Initiative Schroeder Institute, she provides leadership for research that examines the impact of tobacco-related policies on youth and young adults.

Prior to joining Truth Initiative, Schillo was a vice president at ClearWay Minnesota for 17 years, where she was instrumental in developing a nationally recognized research grant-making program and leading research efforts to advance tobacco control policy. She provided leadership in disseminating and translating science into public policy and practice and led efforts to develop highly innovative quitting programs that have served as a model for other states.

Dr. Schillo has a Ph.D. from Michigan State University in community psychology.

Carol McGruder is a seasoned veteran of California’s tobacco control experience and a founding member and Co-Chairperson of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC). 

Through her leadership of the AATCLC, McGruder has been at the forefront of the national movement to restrict the sale of mentholated tobacco products, assisting municipalities across the country in passing ordinances to get these deadly products out of their communities.

McGruder played a vital role in San Francisco’s historical passage of the first citywide ordinance prohibiting the sale of menthol and all flavored tobacco products and the resounding defeat of the $12 million dollar RJ Reynolds referendum to repeal the ordinance. She now engages with other advocates to fight the tobacco industry referendum to overturn California’s statewide menthol law that would have gone into effect January 1, 2021.

McGruder and the AATCLC have received honors and accolades from many organizations, including the Public Health Law Center, the Society for Research on Nicotine & Tobacco (SRNT), the American Legacy Foundation, and the San Francisco and Berkeley Branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  McGruder served as NAACP Branch President for Berkeley, CA for two terms.

Christopher Banthin, J.D. is Senior Staff Attorney at the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University. He advises municipalities, state and federal lawmakers, and non-governmental public health organizations. He was an expert consultant to the United States Department of Justice in its lawsuit against the leading cigarettes manufacturers. He advises municipalities in the defense of their public health laws from legal challenges. He was recognized by Tobacco Free Mass in 2017 for his many years of work to help make housing in Massachusetts smoke-free. 

Elise Yannett is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. She serves as a senior advisor to Attorney General Healey and oversees and drives the Office’s affirmative strategic initiatives, which encompass legal, policy, and communications efforts across a broad range of public policy areas, including the health and well-being of young people. She has led the Office’s initiative to address the youth vaping epidemic, including by holding e-cigarette manufacturers accountable for targeting young people. She also manages two of the Office’s innovative statewide projects around youth prevention education and social-emotional learning.

Doug Kress is the Director of Health and Human Services for the City of Somerville, MA, and is the former Director of Development Service/Community Planning & Economic Development for the City of Minneapolis. He led the City of Somerville through the proposal, passage, and implementation of the first municipal menthol ban in Massachusetts. Kress is a 2011 Bush Leadership Fellow and received his Master of Public Policy degree from Tufts University.


Welcome: Carole Allen, MD, MBA, FAAP, President, Massachusetts Medical Society and Past Chair, Tobacco Free Mass

Introduction: Dennis M. Dimitri, MD, Chair, Tobacco Free Mass (at 2:15 on video)

Countering Tobacco Industry Attempts to Undermine Scientific Integrity and Public Health Practice: Barbara Schillo, PhD, The Truth Initiative (at 4:45 on video)

The Menthol Wars and Tobacco Industry Influence: Carol McGruder, Founder and Co-Chair, African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (at 21:25 on video)

Stories from the Real World: Experiences with the tobacco industry at the state and local levels: (at 36:00 on video)

Chris Banthin, JD, Public Health Advocacy Institute

Elise Yannett, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General

Doug Kress, Health and Human Services, City of Somerville

Presentation of the Blake Cady Award for Leadership in Tobacco Control (at 59:55 on video)

Closing: Dennis M. Dimitri, MD

mailing address:

Tobacco Free Mass

PO Box 1701

Provincetown, MA 02657-5701

(617) 795-4129

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