How Menthol Cigarettes Became Black Smokers’ Favorites

SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Black Americans smoke menthol cigarettes at a higher rate than any other segment of smokers, according to the American Heart Association, thanks to targeted marketing and the influence of culture popular.

The Biden administration announced last week that the FDA will move forward with rules to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes, in a move celebrated by tobacco control advocates and hailed by the NAACP.

But how did the love of menthol cigarettes start in the black community?

The answer is a combination of targeted marketing using black media and partnerships with political figures and civic organizations who have had influence in the community.

Keith Wailoo, professor of history and public affairs at Henry Putnam University at Princeton University, says the disproportionate use of menthol cigarettes among black smokers is no accident. Instead, it’s a marketing practice developed over decades.

Ebony and Jet Magazine were staples in black homes in the 1960s. Both publications covered African American life, upward mobility, fashion, politics and culture – they were staples that kept black people going through the connected countries.

In the glossy pages were ads featuring sexy, young, hip people (who looked like them) doing everyday things and enjoying the sweet taste of menthol while doing it.

“Distributing free samples, working with influencers in communities to spread the product, but also buying black media silence versions. Black newspapers that relied on advertising were reluctant to criticize these industry tactics, working with civil rights groups to defend the industry whenever their tactics came under attack,” Wailoo said.

Wailoo says these tactics and misinformation have worked in tandem to contribute to the disparity in the use of menthol cigarettes among black smokers.

“When you really look at these practices – practices like going to Black St. Louis in the late 1960s and trying to figure out who the influencers were and giving out free samples because the industry understood and studied how influence was done in the communities. ”

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its long-awaited plan to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars on Thursday last week, citing the toll of smokers and young black people.

Opponents of the plan say ending the sale of these products will only open up an underground market and increase police surveillance, citing the deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd as reasons for continued availability.

In an article published by The Hill, Reverend Al Sharpton said the ban could have unintended consequences for the community that are just as serious as the health consequences of smoking.

“We didn’t say we were opposed to it, what we said was that we would like to see a study, a commission to study how they deal with unintended consequences before we impose a ban,” Sharpton said. . “How could anyone ignore the interactions between the police [and the Black community] if they are increased because of a ban? ” He continued. “If a policeman sees a guy standing on the corner smoking a Kool, he asks ‘Where did you get that?’ and that will lead to an interaction.

Despite this concern, Wailoo says the cost of maintaining the status quo is too big a risk to ignore.

“Of course, they are addressing a legitimate civil rights issue which relates to discrimination and racism, but they are doing so in a way that helps support the industry’s right to sell and prosecute a form of exploitation that continues.” for decades,” Wailoo said. “And unfortunately, it’s a familiar playbook of the history of the industry and how it wins friends in order to maintain its markets. And the thing I would say about that argument is that it is wrong. It is wrong for a particular tragic reason.

When the tobacco industry settled a major lawsuit in the 1990s, the industry’s massive database became public and anyone interested had access to the marketing tactics that allowed tobacco companies to gain traction. money.

“When you see the kinds of surreptitious tactics that have been used to build and maintain markets, you begin to see that the world of markets and the private sector and the creation of consumer behavior is a matter of social justice when the impact long-term is so detrimental to the health of communities,” Wailoo said.

Video footage courtesy of Truth Initiative

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