Enough is Enough: How Big Tobacco Targets the Black Community


February is Black History Month — an annual celebration of the critical role Black Americans have played in U.S. history. Throughout the month, we acknowledge the accomplishments and resilience of this community in working to overcome all obstacles — including being targeted by Big Tobacco. Keep reading to learn about how Big Tobacco has gone after African Americans … and what you can do to protect your loved ones.

tobacco ads

The Impact of Advertising

For many decades, Big Tobacco has conspired to addict the Black community. In the 1960s, the tobacco company Brown and Williamson developed the Kool brand of cigarettes specifically for African Americans. The company used darker-skinned models in its cigarette advertising, which was designed to reflect the “Black experience.” Today, Kools and other menthols remain extremely popular among African Americans, and a 2007 study found that mostly Black neighborhoods had 2.6 times as many cigarette ads per person as other neighborhoods. Menthol cigarettes have been proven to be even more hazardous than other cigarettes, yet tobacco companies continue to market these deadly products to the Black community. As a result, around 80% of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes. A 2006 study in Nicotine and Tobacco Research found that menthol cigarettes are often a “starter product” for youth smokers.


Different Product, Deadly Results

Even though rates of teenage cigarette smoking have declined nationwide, the tobacco industry continues to find sneaky ways to remain relevant. Through calculated marketing ploys and appealing flavors, they work hard to secure lifelong customers by peddling vaping products to Black teens. It speaks volumes that the recent ban on flavored vaping cartridges included mango, crème, fruit and cucumber flavors, but excluded mint and menthol flavors. Since these are the flavors the majority of Black smokers use, this only further reinforces health inequity within the African American community.


Let’s Hold Big Tobacco Accountable

Internal tobacco industry documents have shown that Big Tobacco has consistently prioritized profits over the health of its consumers, knowing the most vulnerable communities would be the most affected. This is evident in a quote from an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company Executive:

“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.” 

Big Tobacco’s blatant disregard for health of the Black community is obvious in the way they speak about African Americans — and the way they target them. The consequences are grave. Smoking rates in Black communities remain much higher than those of the general population, and quitting rates are lower. As a result, African American men have the highest rates of lung cancer in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s time to hold Big Tobacco accountable for their deadly actions.

Fight Back

Want to get back at Big Tobacco? Boycott their products — and encourage your friends and family to do the same. If you need help quitting tobacco, the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline is here to help with FREE services, like nicotine replacement therapy and support from Quit Coaches. Remember that your voice is powerful in the fight against Big Tobacco. Use it by sharing this article and continuing the conversation about the benefits of tobacco-free policies.

Published by Tobacco Stops With Me on February 3, 2020