Menthol & Big Tobacco’s Manipulation
For the tobacco industry, not all targets are created equal. Going back decades, Big Tobacco has relentlessly targeted and profiled Black communities, leading to greater smoking rates and higher cancer levels. Today we’re going to take a closer look at the unequal treatment they’ve received from the tobacco industry.
Decades of Manipulation
The decades-long web of systemic targeting of Black smokers is tangled, including attempts at policy influence, organizational ties, promotions, and targeted marketing.
In the 1960s, the tobacco company Brown and Williamson developed the Kool brand of menthol cigarettes specifically for African Americans. The new cigarette ads featured Black models and were promoted as “young, hip, new, and healthy,” to the public. At the same time, Big Tobacco was also donating funds to Black organizations to try and reduce regulation on their deadly products.
Menthol cigarettes have a cooling effect, making them easier to smoke and harder to quit. The menthol reduces the harshness of the smoke and soothes the coughing reflex. This combination means users inhale menthol cigarette smoke more deeply into their lungs, hold it longer, and increases their exposure to the cigarette’s dangerous chemicals, like nicotine.
- The FDA reported that menthol cigarettes lead to increased smoking initiation, greater addiction, and less success in quitting smoking.
- As a result of predatory tactics, menthol cigarettes, including Kool, remain extremely popular among African Americans. Nearly 9 in 10 Black smokers use menthol cigarettes.
- Big Tobacco’s manipulation with menthol cigarettes has been cited as a likely reason why there is “disproportionately high tobacco-related disease and mortality among African Americans.”
Big Tobacco’s Tactics & Effect on Black Communities
Years of ruthless targeting have real consequences and deadly results. It’s critical to both understand how the tobacco industry operates and its effects on the Black community.
- Neighborhoods where people mostly identify as African American/Black have about 10x more tobacco ads and more tobacco retailers.
- Evidence also indicates that stores in African American neighborhoods are more likely to sell tobacco products to youth.
- Not only is tobacco more heavily advertised and more available in these areas, some tobacco products are actually cheaper in African American communities.
- Because of Big Tobacco’s predatory marketing, smoking rates are typically higher in Black communities.
- Big Tobacco’s manipulative tactics are why the Black community has the largest burden of tobacco-related deaths of any racial or ethnic group in the United States.
- African American men have the highest rates of lung cancer in the U.S.
- Tobacco causes more deaths than AIDS, accidents and homicides combined in Black communities. That’s 45,000 deaths every year.
The tobacco industry wants to get young African Americans addicted to tobacco. It’s estimated that certain groups of African American youth are up to 50 percent more likely to use tobacco than average multicultural youth. With the devastating effect smoking has on its users, it’s essential to give these young smokers a voice. We need to associate tobacco-free attitudes and values with authentic, culturally relevant identities. New campaigns like Fresh Empire hope to change peer crowd norms over time.
Together, we must grapple with the effects of Big Tobacco’s efforts to target Black smokers. We’re proud to partner with Project Success, a local organization that seeks to reduce and remove health-related disparities among African Americans throughout the state.
To learn more, visit online at projectsuccessinc.org.
Snippets for Social:
- Tobacco companies have used predatory practices to push their deadly product on the Black community, and advertising has long been Big Tobacco’s favorite weapon. Neighborhoods where people predominantly identify as African American/Black have about 10x more tobacco ads.
- Big Tobacco’s disregard for the health of the Black community is obvious in the way they target African Americans—and how they speak about them. One executive from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company said, “We don’t smoke that sh*t. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and stupid.”
- Tobacco is incredibly destructive in Black communities, causing more lives to be lost than from AIDS, accidents and homicides combined. 45,000 lives, to be precise. That’s a lot of death from such a small product.
- Menthol cigarettes have a cooling effect, making them easier to smoke and harder to quit. The menthol reduces the harshness of the smoke and soothes the coughing reflex. This combination means users inhale menthol cigarette smoke more deeply into their lungs, hold it longer, and ultimately increase their exposure to the dangerous chemicals, like nicotine.
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