By Vanessa Johnson
CEO and President, New Concept Self Development Center
A little after Thanksgiving a series of new tobacco ads debuted across America on prime-time television and in published newspapers, but they weren’t promoting tobacco. The marketing campaign was a result of “corrective statements” that were court-ordered eleven years ago. Big Tobacco was required by the federal courts to inform the public about the dangers of smoking.
While perhaps, we can applaud Big Tobacco for finally doing the right thing in their “corrective statements” campaign, let’s not be fooled, it wasn’t by choice. But, since they did issue an “oops I guess we lied again” pronouncement to the American public, then maybe it’s time for them to create an ad acknowledging their misdeeds towards one group in particular — African- Americans. One statement, captured and recorded as part of the infamous “tobacco industry documents,” released to the public in the 2000s, said most of what you need to know.
“We don’t smoke that s_ _ _. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and stupid,” stated an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company Executive (internal document).
Even worse were the great lengths the tobacco industry took to ensure “menthol,” a product used by 93 percent of African American adult smokers in Wisconsin, was the flavor of choice in the Black community.
“Since younger adult Blacks overwhelmingly prefer menthol cigarettes, continued emphasis on Salem within the Black market is recommended. Salem is already positioned against younger adults. With emphasis on the younger adult Black market, Salem may be able to provide an alternative to Newport and capitalize on Kool’s decline,” said RJ Reynolds, founder of RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company.
The saturation of the Black community with menthol products, which can be more deadly than non-menthol cigarettes because smokers tend to inhale them more deeply, was as effective as planned. Menthol cigarettes, in particular Newports, are the preferred brand of nearly 2/3 of African American youth smokers, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Smoking related diseases are the number one killer of African Americans, nationwide. In Wisconsin the adult smoking rate for African Americans is 32 percent, almost double the rate of the general public.
Which leads me back to the question- Where’s our commercial? Better yet, when will Big Tobacco stop its historic and sustained campaign to target African Americans with menthol and other deadly tobacco products?