Black health: going up in smoke

Legislatively speaking

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Lena C. Taylor

I grew up in a time when smoking was cool and common. Cigarettes were accessible and encouraged. Models were often depicted with the thin tobacco stem, perfectly positioned between two fingers. Factory workers worked openly with an evenly balanced “square” on their lips. Regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or age, Big Tobacco had ingrained smoking in American culture. Hook, line and sinker, they had us.

It will be years later before we fully understand the tactics employed to attract and retain their consumer. Nursed at a young age by “Joe Camel” or infused with candy-flavored nicotine, cigarette manufacturers spared no plan or expense to capture the attention of the American consumer. In 1966, the four largest tobacco companies spent nearly $2 billion on annual advertising. By 2019, that number had grown to almost $8 billion a year.

The number is staggering, especially considering the huge settlements these companies have paid out over the years. You see, in the 1950s, people started to realize that something was wrong. Reports began to surface linking cigarettes to lung cancer and the first lawsuits were filed. Armed with tons of top lawyers and deep pockets, the tobacco industry prevailed. Little did they know the fight was just beginning.

Over the years, research has strengthened the plaintiffs’ case. Internal documents have been uncovered showing that the industry has known its products were harmful for years. The tide turned and large payments were made to individuals, families and public agencies, which absorbed much of the financial burden of caring for those affected by tobacco-related illnesses. Cases continue to be decided and settlements reached that, in the case of Wisconsin, date back to 1998. We learned in 2021 that the state would receive approximately $14 million, as part of a multi-state settlement.

Yet, with all we know about the harmful effects of first-hand and second-hand smoke, the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) says about 31 million adults continue to smoke. Additionally, the CDC reports that some “16 million Americans are living with a smoking-related illness.” In the African American community, these numbers correlate with the fact that tobacco is a major contributor to the three leading causes of death among African Americans: heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

It is with this understanding that I am such a big supporter of the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention and Poverty Network. Campaigns like “No Menthol Sunday” and “No Singles/No Loosies,” which are strategies aimed at black consumers, do the job of raising awareness about the dangers of smoking. We are fortunate to have a network of professionals working to prevent our health, our lives and our future from going up in smoke. The least we can do is meet them halfway.

About Margaret Shaw

Check Also

Top FDA tobacco official resigns to take job at Philip Morris International

OOn July 26, Matthew Holman, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco …