In 2009 the federal government banned all flavored cigarettes after determining that they were too enticing for children. Though things like cloves and fruit flavors got the boot, mentholated brands were allowed to stay, the reason being that taking them away would disproportionately impact Black smokers. The numbers support that theory: Of African-American teenagers who smoke, 80 percent smoke menthols.
Now that a new debate rages on about whether menthols should be included under the flavor ban, a new study has emerged showing why a menthol ban might be smart, and why so many Black teenagers love menthols.
Dave Chappelle has a famous sketch in which competitors play a trivia game called “I Know Black People.” One of the questions is “Why do Black people like mentholated cigarettes?” The correct answer, “I don’t know.” It turns out, however, that we do know: marketing.
A new study from the Stanford School of Medicine has discovered that menthol cigarette manufacturers created very direct marketing campaigns designed to attract young Black smokers. Far from being a catchall effort, Reuters says these campaigns were concerted attacks on African-American teens:
A recent analysis of the data found school neighborhoods were increasingly likely to have lower prices and more advertising for Newport cigarettes as the proportion of African-American students rose. The same was true of neighborhoods with higher proportions of children aged 10 to 17.
The researchers on the study called Lorrilard, the company behind Newport cigarettes, “predatory.”
Understanding that cigarette makers are specifically targeting young African-Americans, perhaps it does make sense to include menthols under the flavored cigarettes ban. Then again, if Newport is taken asunder, without a doubt a new brand will find a way to fill the vacancy. The ugly truth is that as their older users die, tobacco manufacturers are going to need to find new customers, and that means young people.
(Photo: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, file)