For the past seven years, Katelyn Almeda has been building a movement to end smoking in the Virginia music scene. To accomplish this seemingly impossible goal, Almeda utilized her connections in the local scene and beyond to build a brand based on beating Big Tobacco at their cruel business in the Commonwealth where it began in the U.S. Known as Syke, Almeda and her team focus on the alternative music scene with multiple outreach and education initiatives to encourage youths to engage in a smokefree lifestyle.

Can you please explain why Syke was founded, and what was the primary motivation for establishing this movement toward a smokefree music scene?

Syke was founded in order to raise awareness about the tobacco industry. When it comes to smoking, we believe in fully informed choice that is free from lies and deceit. Syke is here to expose the truth about tobacco and educate people about how the industry has affected our world.

We know that just harping on the “smoking will kill you” message doesn’t really resonate with our crowd. Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. Instead, Syke focuses on things like industry marketing techniques, how specific people have been targeted, how they have tested products on animals, how cigarettes today contain thousands of chemicals, how developing countries have been harmed due to tobacco production, etc. A lot of people simply do not know these things, and we feel if they did, they’d think twice about supporting such an awful industry. We believe its important that people can be true to their values, and what we see is that, in reality, the tobacco industry’s values don’t align with ours.

Syke initially began with the help of Rescue Social Change Group. How has that company been involved in achieving Syke’s fight against tobacco companies in the local music scene?

We’ve been able to connect the dots between many different cultures and the smokefree messages that resonate best with them. We try hard to make sure any messages are coming from within the culture and want people to live smokefree according to their own personal values.

For example, as Syke’s manager, I get to sponsor and host shows and work with alternative bands to spread the movement. We print merch, run commercials on TV, promote online campaigns and giveaways, etc. I grew up in the Virginia metal and hardcore scene, and it had a big influence on my life. I feel so lucky that my job is to give back to the scene that really helped shape who I am.

In an interview with Noise From Below, you explained that funding for Syke comes from tobacco companies as a result of the Master Settlement Agreement (1998) in which every year, the U.S. states receive a portion of the settlement amount of $206 billion to use toward prevention and awareness campaigns. How did Syke get access to this funding?

The spirit and intent of the MSA was to provide states with funding for tobacco-use prevention efforts that would ultimately lower the prevalence of tobacco use. Because tobacco use is disproportionately high within the alternative crowd, Syke was born. Ultimately, Virginia just wants its entire [population] to have access to the right info to live a healthy life.


One of the primary means Syke uses to reach out to youths is by sponsoring shows and festivals in order to promote a smokefree scene to bands and concert goers. What are some examples of how Syke’s usage of social branding has been successful in reducing the amount of smokers at shows?

We are genuinely investing in this community. By celebrating music and art and educating people about the harm caused by tobacco, we hope to shift the image of the scene to one that is tobacco-free.

Not only do we see musicians and venues supporting the movement, we see attitudes shifting over time. Syke has shown that there is a way to be yourself and be proud to be tobacco-free. It’s really amazing to see support for the movement grow over time.

In addition to sponsoring shows, Syke recently launched a tobacco addiction recovery program that literally pays tobacco users to quit smoking. Can you tell us more about that and how successful has been thus far?

Participants in quit groups get cessation support from a professional counselor and earn small cash incentives for each week they cut back on smoking, as measured by a device called a Smokeralyzer that measures carbon monoxide in the lungs. The incentives can add up to around $100 after 8 weeks.

Breaking the culture’s association between the alternative music scene and smoking is the ultimate goal, and the program has been successful at helping people figure out how to be smokefree while still attending shows.

We’re in the middle of our first quit group, and it’s going really well. Everyone knows each other from shows so it’s a really relaxed environment. They’re all supportive and open with each other. Its pretty rad, and I can’t wait to see the program expand.

Even though Syke is primarily about supporting a smokefree scene in Virginia, the movement has also gained national exposure with endorsements from bands such as WINDS OF PLAGUE and MISS MAY I. Does Syke also operate in any other states, or is it just in Virginia?

Syke is just in Virginia but there is a movement across the country where the alt-rock scene supports being tobacco-free. Blacklist is another similar campaign, and their scene has spread through New Mexico, Utah, Nebraska, and is even heading into Canada.

What is the next Syke event you are looking forward to?

We have a lot of great events coming up this summer. We’re hosting BROADSIDE’s record release show in Richmond. We’ll also be at Warped Tour and ICE Fest in Virginia Beach, STATE CHAMPS and HIT THE LIGHTS at The Broadberry in Richmond, and Mayhem Fest in Bristow, Va. We’ll be hosting meet and greets, interviews, raffles, etc. It’s going to be an awesome summer!

For more updates on Syke, be sure to visit their website, “like” their Facebook page, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

Joe Fitzpatrick

Joe Fitzpatrick

As editor-in-chief, Joe is very passionate about promoting music and culture in Virginia and DC. A resident of Fairfax, Joe enjoys going to shows, checking out local breweries, and trying new foods with his girlfriend Alex.

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