The Truth About Flavor was a youth leadership and media production pilot program in South Central Los Angeles about flavored cigarillos. A collaboration between Truth Initiative (formerly Legacy), Public Matters, Freewaves, and students from Community Health Advocates School (CHAS) at Augustus Hawkins High School, it cultivated a cadre of youth health advocates who are motivated and poised to inform their community about the dangers of flavored cigarillos.


Two Public Matters Fellows, Jocelyn Herrera and Xochilt Sanchez, supported the project’s implementation. During this period they honed skills in media production, program design, teaching, and leadership by assisting the core Public Matters team and mentoring CHAS students throughout the year.

The project culminated with a series of public presentations and events involving a wider network of project partners. CHAS students presented as part of a Freewaves, Long Live LA public screening; at a meeting of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free LA County; and as part of World No Tobacco Day events at Watts Healthcare Corporation and Los Angeles City Hall. The City Hall event was orchestrated in close partnership with the Tobacco Enforcement Program at the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney.


CHAS students received recognition from both the leadership of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free LA County and the Los Angeles City Attorney for their thoughtful work and contributions to tobacco prevention.

Our Role

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Worked with Truth Initiative (formerly Legacy) to develop and implement project goals, content, and partners


Oversaw the employment, training, and mentorship of two Public Matters Fellows during the duration of the project


Designed classroom curriculum and led in-class program throughout the 2014-2015 school year

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Collaborated with project researchers to ensure smooth implementation of evaluations

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Identified and built project partnerships with state and local tobacco control and prevention groups, among others


Created five short, scripted “Myth-Buster” videos, dozens of smoke puffs, and a 10-minute documentary on the context of flavored cigarillo sales and use by youth in South Central Los Angeles


Trained CHAS students in media literacy, media production, tobacco-related public health, advocacy, public speaking, and civic leadership


The poorer the people, the cheaper the poison.


—Dr. Phillip Gardiner, DR. P.H.

In under-resourced communities of color like South Central LA, cheap flavored cigarillos, or small cigars, flood local stores. Liquor stores. Gas stations. Corner stores. 99 cent stores. Youth are targeted through colorful advertising, cheap pricing, savvy branding, and decades of misinformation. Los Angeles’ 9th District, where the Community Health Advocates School is located, has the largest number of tobacco retailers in the City of Los Angels. Many are in close proximity of the District’s schools. Needless to say, these products are easily available. They’re also readily sold to minors. Because of these myriad and compounding factors, tobacco-related health issues disproportionately impact communities like South Central LA.

Tobacco control has come a long way in addressing cigarettes. Unfortunately, we’ve not paid much attention to small cigars.


—Laura Hamasaka, Truth Initiative (formerly Legacy)


The Truth About Flavor aimed to increase public awareness of the risks and harms of flavored cigarillos on individuals and communities and to explore measures a community may take to address concerns about these products.


In conjunction with Public Matters’ engagement with students at CHAS and partnership building with members of the Los Angeles public health community, Truth Initiative engaged researchers to evaluate the pilot. Public Matters worked closely with all partners to ensure that research goals were met.


To find out more about the context for The Truth About Flavor, watch the documentary created in alongside the “Myth-Buster” videos. 


Truth Initiative

Truth Initiative is America’s largest non-profit public health organization dedicated to making tobacco use a thing of the past. It speaks, seeks and spreads the truth about tobacco through education, tobacco-control research and policy studies, and community activism and engagement. Known previously as American Legacy Foundation, it was established as part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between major U.S. tobacco companies and 46 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and five territories.

Community Health Advocates School at Augustus Hawkins High School (CHAS).

CHAS is one of three distinct small schools on the Augustus Hawkins High School campus. It nurtures, inspires and empowers the future social workers and community health advocates of South Central Los Angeles


Freewaves is a Los Angeles media arts organization that brings media art to the public in innovative ways. It provided additional project support for The Truth About Flavor myth-busters as part of its Long Live LA! Program, part of Freewaves’ larger project Out the Window.  Freewaves screens the myth-buster videos in health clinics throughout Los Angeles County, reaching an audience of over 300,000 viewers.


Public Matters worked with students in Mr. Jay Davis’ 11th and 12th grade filmmaking class and developed the comprehensive arc of The Truth About Flavor to grow the students’ knowledge of health disparities, tobacco-related health outcomes, media production, and public presentation. Simultaneously, the project-based learning program supported the development of students’ self-esteem and capacity as community change agents and leaders.

Connecting Students to a School’s Mission

As part of the project, students were asked how they connected to CHAS’s overarching mission:


To nurture, inspire and empower the future social workers and community health advocates of South Central Los Angeles.


Almost all were unaware of the mission statement’s existence. Through the project, the students transformed into public figures and champions for healthier communities. Participation in The Truth About Flavor prepared them to step beyond the school’s confines as community health advocates versed in tobacco-related dangers and health disparities.


Cigarillo Use and Health Disparities

The Truth About Flavor trained students to explore their neighborhoods with a critical eye towards understanding the social justice issues contributing to health disparities and tobacco-related health outcomes in their community and in communities of color like South Central Los Angeles. It provided them with facts and figures on the dangers of flavored tobacco, and created a context in which they could examine community perceptions. Guest presenters including public health professionals and scholars spoke to the class on Big Tobacco and why flavored products with cheap price tags flood neighborhoods like South LA.


Students dove into tobacco literacy: interrogating tobacco marketing. They got their first taste of media literacy. Moving from critique to practice, students walked the area around their school, mapping the businesses selling tobacco products, the types of advertising they saw, and the prevalence of discarded butts and wrappers. They reflected on how they, their families, and their friends interacted with these products.


With this training, students were tasked with exploring, interpreting, and commenting on their local environment.

Media Production

As students undertook critical considerations of their neighborhood, they learned basic camera skills, audio production, screenwriting, and how to work as a production crew.  They became media teams, producing the stories, props and videos that could bust the myths around cigarillo use.


Leadership Development

Tasking a high school student with being a community health leader is far easier said than done. Public Matters taught CHAS students public speaking and how to give presentations, to be comfortable both in front of and behind the camera. Over the course of the second semester they had a number of opportunities to speak publicly and present on the videos alongside their peers and professionals in various fields.


Local Partnerships

Outside of the classroom and the project’s core partnerships, The Truth About Flavor pursued an expanded network to increase the overall impact of the year’s work, including the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Tobacco Enforcement Program, Coalition for a Tobacco Free LA County, Watts Healthcare Corporation, American Cancer Society/ Cancer Action Network, and Heart Association of Greater Los Angeles.

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The Truth About Flavor saw local youth become community health advocates who are media proficient, familiar with community issues, understand the tobacco industry and tobacco control and prevention efforts, comfortable presenting in public, and able to enact hands-on community transformation.


Since completing the project, materials from The Truth About Flavor have been used by national and local groups to support tobacco awareness, control, and prevention efforts. Groups include CounterTobacco.Org and LA Quits.

  • Created a program for high school students combining media literacy, media production and community asset mapping
  • Connected students to the mission of their high school by preparing them to act as Community Health Advocates
  • Using a social justice framework, introduced students to the concept of health disparities and investigated tobacco-related heath outcomes in communities of color, and connected them to leading public health scholars/activists
  • Connected students to officials in the LA City Attorney’s Office and the LA County Department of Public Health and introduced them to Los Angeles City Hall, a place where none of the students had ever visited
  • Prepared students to write, direct, and act in videos on the myths surrounding flavored cigarillos
  • Equipped students with the skills to execute successful public presentations, including developing public speaking skills and crafting messages for different audiences
  • Built student self-esteem
Community Health
  • Developed free, publicly-available media (myth-busters videos and a documentary) that can be used by those in tobacco control and prevention for toolkits and other educational purposes
  • Initiated partnerships between groups to increase collaboration on non-legislative tobacco measures
  • Introduced public health officials to the powerful and effective narratives produced and presented by local youth
Content Development
  • 5 “myth-buster” style videos
  • 1 documentary
  • 4 oversized cigarillo costumes, 1 “Minteez” box, dozens of smoke puffs and cardboard cigarillos of varying sizes
Public Matters Fellows
  • Facilitated the on-going development of Fellows through hands-on training in program development, teaching and mentorship of high school students, prop creation, advanced media production and post-production, and public presentation



CHAS students and cardboard mix to form whimsical videos sharing serious information




Connecting classroom work to audiences beyond CHAS’s walls




Ensuring The Truth About Flavor’s message reaches public health and policy audiences




  • A Project Review + Event Recap: WORLD NO TOBACCO DAY 2015 Writing + Video by Public Matters Fellow Xochilt Sanchez The Truth About Flavor culminated with the public celebration of World No Tobacco Day on Friday May 29, 2015, on the South Lawn steps of......

  • A Project Review + Event Recap: WORLD NO TOBACCO DAY 2015 Writing + Video by Public Matters Fellow Xochilt Sanchez The Truth About Flavor culminated with the public celebration of World No Tobacco Day on Friday May 29, 2015, on the South Lawn steps of......