Commentary: Not So Kool: Big Tobacco Targets Black Smokers

After decades of facing targeted marketing by cigarette companies, the Black community is attempting to put out manufacturers' smoke and mirrors.

Posted: 03/14/2012 05:56 PM EDT

Though Black Americans are more likely to die of lung cancer than their Caucasian counterparts, according to the American Lung Association, Black people actually smoke less than whites. But don’t think the dearth of smokers is for lack of trying by the tobacco industry. In fact, Big Tobacco has preyed for years on African-Americans, and many of them still don’t know it.

Eight million Black Americans now smoke tobacco, due in no small part to direct targeting by Big Tobacco. In a study from last year, the Stanford School of Medicine found that cigarettes, particularly mentholated ones, were hawked in a “predatory” manner to Black neighborhoods:

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.

Other cigarette manufacturers told their marketers to “take advantage” of the dynamics of Black communities, according to a new article in the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, FL:

An internal tobacco company memo made public via landmark litigation urged marketers to "take advantage of the relatively small and tightly knit" nature of the African-American community. Many older members smoke and hand down the habit to younger generations, who have difficulty rejecting their elders' traditions.


All that marketing worked, and menthol cigarettes became so popular in Black communities, and wreaked so much havoc on people’s health, that many African-Americans now support banning menthols for the sake of the community. Others, like one woman interviewed by the Times-Union, are attempting to launch anti-smoking campaigns in Black churches and schools in African-American neighborhoods. In other words, the Black community, at least part of it, is attempting to fight back. However, the enemy, Big Tobacco, is strong and well funded, and it has one goal in mind: to sell you cigarettes.

Asked for a comment for the Times-Union story, a spokesman for cigarette giant RJ Reynolds made it coldly clear: “Our goal is to try to capture U.S. market share by offering adult smokers a wide variety of brand choices and styles, and to communicate with as broad a spectrum of adult smokers as possible.”

Tobacco companies want to capture the market, whether or not that means you die of lung cancer.



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