Budget & Tax
Staff Reports | May 24, 2018
'Behavior change' company hired by TSET made millions from Obama Administration
Rescue Social Change is a private, for-profit company that owes its success to government contracts, including one with Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET). The California-based firm describes itself as a “behavior change marketing company.”
Last year, Rescue Social Change was identify by Inc. magazine as the 519th fastest growing company in the United States. The rapid growth was the result of the Obama Administration, which paid $152,760,114 to Rescue Social Change for a multi-year “campaign to prevent tobacco use among discrete segments of youth aged 12-15 who are at risk for tobacco initiation.”
Many government contracts with Rescue Social Change focus on smoking, and although the company’s website says it also works on other public health issues, including “alcohol, substance abuse, and sexual health,” the group often promotes drinking at the same time it denigrates smoking.
In 2011 Rescue Social Change received a $5 million federal grant that it spent hosting events at bars, giving away free koozies, and even paying people cash not to smoke. The campaign, targeted at “hipsters,” was item number four in U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake’s 2015 Star Wars-themed Wastebook.
As part of its government-funded work, Rescue Social Change created a brand called HAVOC that sponsored parties, including in Oklahoma City. The parties featured scantily clad women “in neon animal print” costumes. These “HAVOC hotties brought attention to the harmful affects (sic) of second hand smoke on pets.”
Rescue Social Change has also received millions of dollars from state governments, as shown by data from OpenTheBooks.com. Connecticut’s Department of Public Health paid the group $100,000 in 2016. The Department of Health and Human Services in Nebraska paid the company $109,064 from 2014 to 2016. New Mexico paid the company nearly $20 million over the same period (see here and here).
In Oklahoma, TSET contracts with Rescue Social Change to promote bars and nightclubs that do not allow smoking inside (some provide designated smoking areas outside). The program, called “Free the Night,” has so far cost the state $ 1,142,625. Julie Bisbee, TSET’s Director of Public Information, noted that the Free the Night expenditure is less that one percent of the TSET program budget.
According to Bisbee, Rescue Social Change hires local workers who then contact bar and club owners to urge them to adopt smokefree status and to promote that through websites and social media.
“Common program activities include working with establishments to survey patrons on support for non-smoking policies at an establishment,” Bisbee said. “Free the Night can offer tips and tactics to the business owner to promote the change in policy and the business will receive promotion through Free the Night’s website and social media.”
Bisbee said the program “does not promote drinking, but rather aligns consumers with establishments that share their value that all Oklahomans deserve the right to breathe clean air.” TSET’s Free the Night website, managed by Rescue Social Change, does however include advertisements for drink specials at participating bars and clubs.