Saturday, July 11, 2020


Article Index

II. Tobacco Industry Targeting of the African-American Community

For well over three decades, cigarette manufacturers have specifically targeted the African-American community. Recognizing a declining consumer base, tobacco companies have attempted to protect their profits by increasing smoking among African-Americans. It splashed inducements to smoke on billboards and buses, on subways, and in African-American publications. They sponsored athletic events, *681 outdoor media campaigns, sports/cultural events, and academic scholarships. The tobacco industry developed specially named brands targeted specifically toward African-Americans. Tobacco companies spent a disproportionate amount of their promotional budget in an effort to hook black smokers. Such conduct must be specifically addressed in any settlement; otherwise, the African-American community will feel two blows--one by the tobacco industry and one by the tobacco settlement.

A. Billboard and Magazine Advertising

To say that the black community has been overrun with tobacco advertising is an understatement. The size and number of billboards in minority communities have created an intrusive and persistent form of advertising.There is absolutely no way to avoid it. For instance, a 1987 survey conducted by the city of St. Louis found twice as many billboards in black neighborhoods as white. Almost 60% of the billboards in the black neighborhoods advertised cigarettes and alcoholic beverages. In another study of seventy-three billboards along nineteen blocks in a black neighborhood in Philadelphia, sixty advertised cigarettes or alcohol. In a 1989 survey by the Abel Foundation, 70% of the 2,015 billboards documented in the city of Baltimore advertised alcohol or tobacco products. Three-fourths of the billboards were in predominately poor African-American neighborhoods. In fact, the Center for Disease Control estimates that billboards advertising tobacco products are placed in African-American communities four to five times more often than in white communities. Furthermore, the advertisements are usually for menthol cigarettes, which are more popular with African-Americans and which have additional significant medical effects.

*682 In addition to billboard advertisement, tobacco companies advertised extensively in African-American magazines. In fact, cigarettes advertised in African-American magazines such as Ebony, Jet, and Essence account for a higher percentage of the minority magazines' total advertising revenues. For instance, in an eight-year period there were 1,477 tobacco advertisements in Jet, Ebony, and Essence. The tobacco industry poured millions of dollars into advertising in newspapers and magazines that serve the African-American community.

They win the lungs of Blacks . . . [by] playing on the image of success, upward mobility, stokes fantasies of wealth and power. . . . They design socially conscious ads in Black publications that tout Black leaders and celebrities, praise Black historical figures, scientists, artists and events and promote their sponsorship of scholarship, business and equal opportunity promotional programs for Blacks. . . .

B. Sponsorship and Donations

The tobacco industry has been a significant sponsor of athletic, civil, cultural and entertainment events. Its donations and sponsorships of African-American events and organizations dates back to 1938, when William Reynolds, R.J.'s brother, donated money to institute the Kate Bitting Reynolds Hospital for blacks in the segregated Winston-Salem, N.C., home of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. For example, the tobacco industry sponsored the fortieth anniversary gala of the United Negro College Fund, the Kool Achiever Awards, the Ebony fashion show, and a forum for publishers of black newspapers on preserving freedoms in American life.

Historically, the African-American community has had an ambivalent relationship with the tobacco industry. We have been a bought people. In exchange for good will, cigarette manufacturers have long supported the African-American *683 community. Key civil rights leaders sat on the boards of tobacco companies; African-American organizations received hundreds of thousands of dollars of tobacco money a year; and black Congress members received significant support from the tobacco industry. In fact, of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, Representative Charles Rangel was nineteenth on the list receiving $47,950, and Representative Ed Towns was fifteenth on the list receiving $51,075. Most of the organizations maintain that the tobacco companies attach no strings and make no attempt to influence their organizational policies. However, it is clear that this relationship resulted in the African-American leaders, newspapers, and other organizations abstaining from criticism of the tobacco industry. For instance, in 1991, not one black magazine publisher attended a meeting designed by Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan to discuss the adverse affects of tobacco advertising in the African-American communities.

*684 Just as with organizations, Congressmen and women were beholding to their benefactors. While nine African-American Congressmen wrote the Food and Drug Administration in support of regulating tobacco as a drug, thirteen African-American Congressmen wrote in opposition. Similarly, while eighteen African-American Congressmen voted to kill a program that provides crop insurance and a government-run acreage allotment program for tobacco farmers at a cost to taxpayers of $25 million a year, nineteen African-American Congressmen voted to keep the program going. Furthermore, at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation meeting, despite having identified sixty-five issues to be addressed, not one dealt specifically with smoking.

C. Special Brands

Cigarette companies developed special brands to market directly to the African-American communities. In 1990, R.J. Reynolds planned to market a menthol cigarette called Uptown. R.J. Reynolds denied that the name was chosen because of the connotation to New York City's Harlem community, but rather because it was a classy name. However, the marketing plan called for ads suggesting glamour, high fashion, and nightlife. Furthermore, the cigarettes were to be packaged with the filter facing down because black smokers tend to open their cigarettes from the bottom. Thus, with 69% of black smokers preferring menthol cigarettes, it was clear that blacks were the target audience for the product. Because of the pressure of public outrage, R.J. Reynolds Company canceled the test marketing of Uptown.

In 1995, a cigarette distributor in Massachusetts packaged cigarettes in red, black and green, placed an X on them, and called them Menthol X. Red, black, and green are the symbolic colors of black liberation and X is associated with Malcom X. The Massachusetts community forced the distributor to pull Menthol X off the shelves. In 1997, R.J. Reynolds introduced a mentholated version of Camel. *685 Many believed that such a step was an aggressive target toward the African-American community that disproportionately smoked menthol cigarettes. The California African-American community protested R.J. Reynold's plan and the cigarette was withdrawn.

D. Promotional Budget and Effort

Even though African-Americans make up only 10% of the population, a disproportionate amount of the tobacco industry's budget has been targeted toward increasing the percentage of black smokers. For instance, in 1973 Brown & Williamson spent 17% of its promotional budget for Kool cigarettes targeting the African-American community. At the same time, even though the company was already using virtually all known vehicles to reach blacks effectively and efficiently, Brown & Williamson recommended spending more due to a response to trends among young people of the ages sixteen to twenty-four. With this additional transit effort, Kool would cover the top twenty-five markets in terms of absolute Negroes. The document also stated that [a]t the present rate, [black] smokers in the 16-to 25-year age group will soon be three times as important to Kool as a prospect in any other broad age category. In 1963, the Ligget Tobacco group considered the following marketing approach: While in the case of the Spanish and Negro markets, there must be a racial slant. They can be reached only by promotion that they understand, i.e. Negro salesmen and media, but not exclusively.

A 1969 R.J. Reynolds memorandum suggested ways to better reach African-Americans: It generally is not as effective to aim at the Negro consumer, as such, as it is to aim at his decisive motivations. . . . Quality rates as a cherished attribute. Negroes buy the best Scotch as long as the money lasts, most marketers agree. The memorandum also suggested that advertisements should avoid physical contact between models of different races.

A 1973 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company marketing profile included a study of black smokers ages fourteen to twenty. In a 1978 research study, Lorillard Tobacco Company, noting the success of its Newport brand and that the brand was being *686 purchased by African-Americans of all ages, emphasized that the base of our business is the [black] high school student.

In 1981, a Reynolds marketing plan stated that [t]he majority of Blacks do not respond well to sophisticated or subtle humor in advertising. They related to overt, clear-cut story lines.

As can be expected, the tobacco industry denied targeting the African-American community: There is absolutely no truth to the contention that the [[[[Camel menthol] brand is being targeted to African-Americans or any other specific ethnic group. In fact, R.J. Reynolds asserted that the African-American community was being unreasonable in believing that market strategy would target a specific population. However, as a result of documents released as a part of tobacco litigation/settlements, it seems that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. The documents prove that African-American perceptions were accurate.