Aug. 23 (UPI) -- The national youth smoking prevention group truth will launch new ads at the MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 27 highlighting smoking by members of the military and the mentally ill.
The group is teaming up with journalists Ryan Duffy, Kaj Larsen and hip hop artist Logic on the new video shorts showing how the tobacco industry targets advertising to people with mental health issues and members of the military.
"The two pieces of content we're launching on the VMAs are a continuation of initiatives we started last February at the Grammy's about big tobacco targeting certain groups," Robin Koval, CEO and president of Truth Initiative, told UPI.
"This time we really want to shine a light on the mental health population. Forty percent of cigarettes are consumed by people with mental health disorders."
Koval told UPI that the military is another "equally important group to shine a light on. The brave men and women in our military have a long history of being targeted by big tobacco. It's kinda shameful when you think about these people putting their lives on the line for us. We depend on their readiness and smoking impairs their strength, endurance, increases number of sick days, and days missed at work."
People with mental health conditions and substance use disorders are estimated to account for 40 percent of cigarettes smoked in the United States. Approximately 38 percent of military smokers started after enlisting.
Koval said the tobacco industry has exploited these, and many other, populations, including African-Americans, low-income communities and LGBTQ individuals, to sell its products.
The campaign -- called "Business or Exploitation?" -- shows the tobacco industry's exploitation of individuals with mental health conditions and members of the military.
An estimated 33.3 percent of adults with mental health conditions smoke, compared to 20.7 percent of those without mental health conditions, and people with serious mental health conditions are more likely to smoke, according to the organization.
The tobacco industry has also given away free cigarettes to psychiatric facilities, the organization says.
"The tobacco industry makes $37 billion a year selling cigarettes to people with mental illness. This is a prime example of how the industry sees certain populations solely as business opportunities and exploits individuals with mental health conditions and members of the military," Koval said.
The campaign features interviews with real people exploited by the tobacco industry, as well as mental health and military experts.
"Big Tobacco saw the military market as being really key to their profits in a way that I think is deeply cynical," Dr. Libby Smith, professor at the University of California, San Francisco and an expert on tobacco in the armed forces, says one of the ads.
"They sponsored lots of entertainment for troops on the military bases, giving away cigarettes. This seemed like a gift to the troops, but really it's all about just marketing the product. While military personnel are supposed to be at peak fitness, tobacco use damages respiratory health and cardiac fitness, even in the short term. Smoking also impairs night vision and retards wound healing, both of which are important for our military members."
According to the campaign, U.S. Marines have the highest rate of smoking among all service members with 30.8 percent, followed by the Army at 26.7 percent, the Navy at 24.4 percent, the Coast Guard at 19.9 percent and the Air Force at 16.7 percent.
The Department of Defense spends more than $1.6 billion each year on tobacco-related medical care, increased hospitalization and lost days of work. It has been estimated that $2.7 billion in Veterans Health Administration health-care expenditures are also due to the health effects of smoking.
"Our target is youth and young adults 15 -24 years old," Koval said. "We always look for opportunities to have our messages in places we know they will be more involved in and music is a passion point for them. The VMAs is where we can aggregate a lot of eyeballs on our campaign.
"This is also the beginning of a campaign that will launch across many platforms such as YouTube, Snapchat, etc. Our goal is educate people so they can make informed decisions."