No Menthol Sunday Comes To Bakersfield For The First Time
BAKERSFIELD, CA – Tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of death for African Americans, claiming more than 45,000 lives annually. The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) and Pastor Toure’ Tyler of The Cross Christian Church in Bakersfield, CA, will be hosting No Menthol Sunday on November 13th, in a charge to inform his congregation and community about the devastating effects of menthol tobacco.
“We understand that there are other social justice issues affecting the African American community such as the highly publicized and unjustified murders of Black Americans by police nationwide, but we must not forget to address the number one killer of African Americans – tobacco,” Carol McGruder, Co-Chair, AATCLC.
No menthol Sunday educates congregants about the ill health effects of tobacco and to say no to the sale of mentholated and candy-flavored tobacco products. Menthol tobacco use has devastated African American community for far too long. The tobacco industry began heavily targeting the African American community in its marketing and selling of menthol-flavored cigarettes in the 1960’s. Today, over 80% of Black smokers use mentholated tobacco products.
During No Menthol Sunday, Pastor Toure’ Tyler of The Cross Christian Church in Bakersfield, CA will discuss nicotine addiction struggles and how to overcome them. We invite all tobacco users — and especially “closet smokers” — to attend No Menthol Sunday to seek the support they need to move forward in a healthier lifestyle.
No Menthol Sunday proceeds The American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout on November 19th this event challenges people to stop using tobacco and helps people learn about the many tools they can use to help them quit and stay quit.
About Pastor Toure’ Tyler
Toure’s mission and vision is to educate, empower and envision God’s people of today becoming accomplished in their dreams of tomorrow. Motivating generations to accomplish all that they were called to purpose in is a vital challenge for him as he engages in transforming the minds of audiences by developing them educationally, exposing them culturally, activating them politically and strengthening them economically.
Health advocates and political leaders in the African American community, joined the efforts to push through anti-smoking Prop 56 on September 23, during a press conference held in front of the Sentinel office on Crenshaw.
Assemblyman Reggie Jones Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) and LA Community College Trustee Sydney Kamlager spoke earnestly about tobacco’s serious impact on African American communities and the health of all Californians. They were joined by representatives from the American Heart Association, California NAACP and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.
“Our communities are being targeted” said Jones-Sawyer.
“African Americans smoke more and die more because of the tobacco industry’s deadly products and marketing tactics. Prop 56 is a crucial step towards making our communities healthier.”
A 2013 U.S. Food and Drug Administration report shows that while smoking rates among African Americans are lower than national levels, this ethnic group suffers disproportionately from smoking-caused chronic and preventable diseases. Each year, approximately 45,000 African Americans die from a smoking-caused illness. An estimated 1.6 million African Americans alive today, who are now under the age of 18, will become regular smokers; and about 500,000 of these will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease.
The initiative proposes that a $2.00 tax be added to cigarettes and vaping products. Meanwhile, giant tobacco companies and other Prop 56 opponents are using their resources to try to stop it from going through, advertising it as a “special interest tax grab”. Instead of helping people to quit smoking like it claims, most of the revenue generated from the interest will go directly to health insurance companies, opponents say.
Proponents firmly disagree and say that, is simply not true.
“In every state that has raised the tobacco tax, smoking rates have decreased,” said Carol McGruder, Co-Chair for the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “Big tobacco is only worried about their bottom line in California and could care less about the well-being of our children and communities.”
Nearly 17,000 California kids begin smoking every year, proponents say, and one-third of them will eventually die from tobacco-related illnesses. By generating billions of dollars for tobacco prevention and education with a $2 per pack user fee, Prop 56 will save lives by discouraging a new generation of kids from becoming addicted to tobacco.
The money will go toward things like education and offsetting costs incurred by Medi-Cal from tobacco related cases.
“The money raised through this initiative will do even more good, by helping us cure tobacco-related diseases that kill so many Californians,” said Laphonza Butler, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California, who also attended the conference.
“The new protections against secondhand smoke in schools and workplaces will be particularly beneficial to communities of color in our state. 2016 will go down as the year California stood up to this predatory industry.”
“Tobacco companies have poured millions of dollars into advertising to keep youth and communities of color addicted to their products,” said Kamlager.
“Whether it’s with menthol advertising or new candy-flavored e-cigarettes, they find new ways to target these communities. We see what they are doing and can’t stand by and let them get away with it.”
An advertisement for Newport menthol cigarettes on a Brooklyn bodega’s door. About four of five African-American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, according to federal surveys.Credit Bryan Thomas for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Menthol cigarettes account for about a third of all cigarettes sold in the United States, and they are particularly popular among black smokers — about four out of five report smoking them, according to federal surveys.
The effects are devastating: About 45,000 African-Americans die each year from smoking-related illnesses — the largest cause of preventable death, more than homicides, AIDS and car accidents. Black men have the highest lung cancer mortality rate of any demographic group.
Three years ago, the Food and Drug Administration seemed poised to take action. It said research showed that the mint flavoring made it easier to start smoking and harder to quit, meaning that the substance harmed public health, a finding that activists and experts believed laid the groundwork for banning menthol.
But nothing has happened, and on Tuesday, a group of African-American activists and health experts made an appeal to President Obama, arguing that the issue was not only one of health, but also of social justice.
“What we’re trying to do is involve the president of the United States in this discussion,” said Phillip Gardiner, a chairman of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “We die disproportionately of cancer-related diseases. Part of what has taken place here is the use of menthol cigarettes.”
A spokesman for the N.A.A.C.P. says the group receives no funding from the tobacco industry.
“It’s been a pivotal year,” Dr. Gardiner said. “There’s been some motion.”
Menthol has a long history among African-Americans. Valerie Yerger, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, who has studied the tobacco industry, said documents showed that cigarette companies targeted low-income, African-American neighborhoods.
She said Lorillard, the maker of Newport, the most popular menthol brand, ordered its sales representatives in the 1980s to “stay out of the suburbs and go into tough inner-city neighborhoods.”
Maura Payne, a spokeswoman for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which owns Lorillard, said she could not comment because the documents were written long before the company acquired Lorillard in 2015.
Lisa Henriksen, a researcher at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, said she had documented patterns of racial disparities in tobacco marketing. In a 2012 study of tobacco sales near California high schools, she found the higher the enrollment of African-American students, the higher the percentage of advertisements for menthol cigarettes. Newports were cheaper, she found, near schools with higher shares of African-American students.
Ms. Payne said it was her understanding that Lorillard’s retail programs “were offered uniformly on a statewide basis.”
Spending for magazine advertising of menthol cigarettes went from 13 percent of total ad spending in 1998 to around 76 percent in 2006, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. From 1998 to 2002, Ebony was nearly 10 times as likely as People to have menthol advertisements.
Dr. Henriksen argued the marketing had an effect. While smoking rates have been declining across the nation, rates for menthol cigarette use among those 18 to 25 climbed to 16 percent in 2010, from 13 percent in 2004, according to a 2011 federal report. From 2008 to 2010, about 57 percent of youth smokers used menthol cigarettes, according to Truth Initiative, an antismoking research group.
The F.D.A. said it had received more than 175,000 public comments in response to its 2013 findings on menthol. A spokesman, Michael Felberbaum, said the agency “is continuing to consider regulatory options related to menthol.”
Carol McGruder, a chairwoman of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, said the group had sent a letter to Mr. Obama; his wife, Michelle, and a number of heads of federal agencies, including the F.D.A. So far, she said, it had not received a reply. But it still hopes to.
“Our children deserve protection from the police,” she said. “They deserve protection from the deadly silent predator: the tobacco industry.”
Correction: September 17, 2016
An article on Wednesday about menthol cigarettes gave an outdated name for an antismoking research group. It is Truth Initiative, no longer the American Legacy Foundation.
WHERE: Kaiser Family Foundation – Barbara Jordan Conference Center
1330 G St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005
Tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of death for African Americans, claiming more than 45,000 lives annually. Over 80% of Black smokers use mentholated tobacco products, which is due to decades of geographically racialized targeting of mentholated tobacco products by the tobacco industry. Though the Food and Drug Administration was given the authority to regulate menthol, it has yet to do so. The AATCLC and our national supporters are asking for President Obama’s intercession to Save Black Lives…
Dear President Obama,
The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) is asking for your direct intercession to help prevent the deaths of the 45,000 Black people who die every year in this country from tobacco-related diseases. Please direct the FDA to issue a proposed rule to remove all flavored tobacco products, including mentholated cigarettes, from the marketplace. The FDA has already done its part by preparing the groundwork for issuing such a proposed rule. Flavored tobacco products (including e-cigarettes, little cigars, and cigarillos) are cheap, sold individually, and very popular especially among African American, Latino, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander youth. The Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) redlining of the menthol and flavors text in the new FDA deeming rule was ill-informed, at best. The FDA has collected and analyzed all the evidence related to flavored products, as reflected in the deleted deeming text. These deletions demonstrate that the FDA attempted to protect the public health as it was mandated to do by the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA). Because this groundwork has already been completed, issuing a new rule can be accomplished quickly…
Hon. Karen Bass, U.S. House of Representatives, 37th District
Carol McGruder, Co-Chair African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council
Dr. Phillip Gardiner, Co-Chair African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council
Dr. Valerie Yerger, Founding Member African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council
Sharon Eubanks, Former Lead Prosecutor, U.S. Department of Justice
Cynthia Hallett, Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights
Denny Henigan, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids
Dr. Lisa Henriksen, Stanford University
Robin Koval, Truth Initiative
Rod Lew, APPEAL
Jeannette Noltenius, National Latino Alliance for Health Equity
(San Francisco, CA) Sunday, August 21st, Dr. Phillip Gardiner, Dr. Valerie Yerger and Carol McGruder of The AATCLC gave compelling interviews for the documentary Black Lives/Black Lungs. Black Lives/Black Lungs is aforthcomingdocumentary investigating the tobacco industry’s infiltration into the black community. Created by Lincoln Mondy and powered by Truth Initiative, the documentary comes at a time when smoking-related illnesses are still the number one cause of death in the black community. The core mission of the documentary is to educate. The documentary takes a historical approach – documenting the predatory targeting of the black community – while highlighting the work that is being done to curb the negative impact.
Truth Initiative joined the African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council to call for FDA to issue a rule banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, in an open letter to President Barack Obama.
“The rule will protect us from our most serious silent predator, the tobacco industry, an industry relentlessly working to seduce and addict another generation of our young people,” states the council’s letter, which Truth Initiative co-signed. “Though other pressing issues may be diverting our attention, our community’s addiction to nicotine continues to kill more black people than AIDS, violence, car accidents, and non-tobacco related cancers combined.”
L to R: Colette Winlock, Y’Lonn Burris, Mansour Id-Deen, Tamiko Johnson, Dr. Noha Aboelata, Carol McGruder, Dr. Valerie Yerger, Patricia Rambo, Dr. Phillip Gardiner, Monica Miller, Liz Williams, Ellsworth Lear.
Dr. Phillip Gardiner, Co-Chair AATCLC.
On Tuesday, June 28, 2016, Oakland Bay Area African American tobacco control leaders launched a national African American Tobacco Control Platform that included a direct request to President Obama to intercede on behalf of the community and help save Black lives. The leaders are asking President Obama to direct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a proposed rule to remove all flavored tobacco products, including mentholated cigarettes, from the marketplace.
“It has been decades, if ever, since such a broad-based group of Black people stood together to declare that in spite of the many challenges facing our community, tobacco control will be treated as a priority,” said AATCLC Co-Chair Carol McGruder. Though tobacco use remains the number one preventable cause of death for African Americans, claiming more than 45,000 lives annually, little has been done to mount a sustained and comprehensive plan to address this issue. Bay Area tobacco control advocates have been working steadily to build a solid foundation of advocacy groups, elected officials, clergy, and health agencies to take on this issue. The group convened by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) included speakers representing the Alameda County Tobacco Control Policy Leadership Institute, T.I.L.E.- Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), Roots Community Health Clinic, The Health and Human Resource Education Center, Berkeley Branch-NAACP, Americans for Non-Smoker’s Rights, and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Vallejo. The AATCLC has been fighting this fight for over 8 years and is one of only 2 national organizations in the country that is specific to tobacco control within the Black community.
The plea for intersession is in response to the Office of Management and Budget’s, redlining/deleting of 17 pages from the FDA’s recently released deeming rule that sought to prohibit menthol and all flavors in little cigars, cigarillos, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products not included in the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA).
The FSPTCA gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products including prohibiting the sale of menthol and flavored cigarettes. Tobacco companies have historically and effectively targeted black communities with highly concentrated, specialized menthol cigarette marketing campaigns. These campaigns included manipulation of our leadership groups, targeted media advertising, and the free distribution of mentholated cigarettes to inner city children. This focused marketing successfully promoted the use of these products among African Americans and have contributed to the present day tobacco related disparities. It is by no accident that 88% of black adult smokers and 95% of black youth smokers report smoking menthol-flavored cigarettes. Which is why tobacco control leaders were dismayed to find that the FDA had in fact attempted to prohibit flavors in the other tobacco products (little cigars, cigarillos, e-cigarettes) that were not initially included in the ACT. While other municipalities including the European Union, Canada, Brazil, and Ethiopia have made legislative progress toward prohibiting menthol little has been done nationally in the U.S. So far only the cities of Chicago, IL and Berkeley, CA have prohibited the sale of menthol and all-flavored tobacco products within a 500-600 ft. radius of schools.
Mansour Id-Deen, NAACP Berkeley Branch President.
The African American Tobacco Control Platform is grassroots driven and designed to engage ordinary citizens in protecting young and old from nicotine addiction. The platform has 10-tenets: 1) Protect our Children by making tobacco use and the predatory marketing of flavored tobacco products one of the top five priorities facing our community. 2) Work within our own organizations and religious institutions to mount a sustained and comprehensive campaign against the tobacco industry. 3) Understand that predatory marketing and tobacco use perpetuate poverty in our communities. 4) Hold the tobacco industry responsible for the irreparable harm that has been done to our community. 5) With the support of elected officials, develop a comprehensive tobacco control platform that will eventually reduce tobacco related illness and improve health equity in the African American community. 6) Demand adequate funding for tobacco prevention programs and culturally appropriate services to help people stop smoking. 7) Educate all organizations and institutions that serve African Americans on how to adopt a non-acceptance of tobacco industry sponsorship/contributions policy. 8) Support raising the price of ALL tobacco products, which will include the cheap unregulated tobacco products that inundate African American and Latino communities. These products include little cigars, blunt wrappers, and cigarillos such as Black’N’Milds, and Swisher Sweets. 9) Restrict the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. 10) Support and demand smoke free multi-unit housing and other protections against secondhand smoke exposure.
NAACP-Berkeley Branch President Mansour Id-Deen, spoke about his branches long history of fighting for public policy that protects Black children. Dr. Phillip Gardiner said it best “think about a plane filled with Black people dropping out of the sky every single day, would we do something about that!”
If you believe Black Lives Matter, then please join us in asking the President to issue a proposed rule to remove all flavored tobacco products, including mentholated cigarettes, from the marketplace.
African American Clergy Defend Their Communities preceding The Wrongful Death Lawsuit of Tony Gwynn’s Family Against the Tobacco Industry
Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles joined religious institutions across the nation as it hosted the first NoMenthol Sunday observance in Southern California. NoMenthol Sunday is a national interfaith effort that educates congregants about the role mentholated and candy-flavored tobacco products play in addicting African Americans to tobacco products. Over 45,000 Black people die every year from tobacco related diseases; it is by far the Number #1 preventable cause of death. NoMenthol Sunday is the African American expression of World No Tobacco Day, which is an international day of observance and resistance against multi-national tobacco companies. It was started by the World Health Organization in 1988 to bring attention to the serious global health issue of tobacco.
Mt. Sinai Pastor George E. Hurtt
The Save Lives-Ban Menthol Coalition was created and took the day as their own when menthol was the only characterizing flavor not banned by the Food and Drug Administration when it was given authority to regulate cigarettes in 2009. The National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, and African American leaders, including the Congressional Black Caucus, took umbrage at menthol’s exclusion. Adding menthol to cigarettes makes smoking easier to start and harder to quit. By adding this flavoring, tobacco companies have successfully recruited both youth and marginalized populations. This exclusion quickly became a social justice issue because over 80% of Black smokers use mentholated cigarettes, which is a direct result of the pernicious tobacco industry targeting of Black communities. Studies show that placing a ban on menthol may save lives and prevent 9 million people from starting to smoke.
Tony Gwynn Baseball Hall of Famer
NoMenthol Sunday preceded the recent lawsuit filed by the family of baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. Gwynn died of salivary gland cancer in 2014. A wrongful-death lawsuit against the tobacco industry charges that Gwynn had been manipulated into the addiction that ultimately killed him. The complaint says that while in college, Gwynn was the victim of an industry scheme to get him, a rising star athlete, addicted to smokeless tobacco, even as the industry knew the health dangers it posed to him. The suit says the industry mounted an aggressive targeted campaign to market its products to African-Americans.
Mt. Sinai’s Pastor George E. Hurtt prayed and spoke lovingly of the need for congregants to embrace and uplift Black smokers as they seek information and support to stop smoking. Mt. Sinai has a strong health emphasis and regularly includes health promoting activities. The service was well received, with 200 members in attendance.
Dr. Susan Bradshaw addresses Mt. Sinai Congregants
The NoMenthol Sunday effort was coordinated by Mt. Sinai members Tavon Morrison and Sharmaine White, under the leadership of Dr. Susan Bradshaw, MD, MPH. Dr. Bradshaw works with the Division of Chronic Disease & Injury Prevention for the Department of Public Health in Los Angeles County. As a tobacco treatment specialist and researcher, Dr. Bradshaw spoke passionately about how young people are lured with cigarette packaging that looks like candy, how easy it is to get addicted to nicotine, how hard it is to quit, and more importantly, the deadly impact that tobacco has had on her community. After the services, her team shared resources and information.
NoMenthol Sunday events will continue throughout the month of June. To get more information or host an event at your faith institution, please contact Y’Lonn Burris at 888.881.6619 Ext. 104/email: email@example.com.
Sharmaine White, Mt. Sinai; Dr. Valerie Yerger, The LOOP Project Director; Tavon Morrison, Mt. Sinai; Dr. Susan Bradshaw, The LOOP fellow; Carol McGruder, The LOOP Leadership Specialist Photo Credit: Dennis Wafford
The LOOP is a capacity building project directed by the University of California, San Francisco. www.theloop.ucsf.edu
Written by Taryn Finley Black Voices Associate Editor, The Huffington Post
Lincoln Mondy’s asthma is probably the only reason why he’s never smoked a cigarette. Doctors warned his parents about the dangerous effects their smoking habit could have on their son, but it was almost impossible to stop because in Farmersville, Texas, “tobacco is everything,” according to Mondy. At the age of 14, Mondy took matters into his own hands when he made a PowerPoint presentation for his mom, whom he lived with, which warned her about tobacco’s adverse effects. With the support of Mondy and other family members, his mother eventually quit smoking by the time he was 15. But getting his father to quit was a different beast to tackle. “My black family all smoked menthol,” Mondy, who is biracial, told The Huffington Post about a pattern he noticed on his paternal family’s side. “Like why do they smoke menthol but my white side dips and smokes cigarettes that aren’t menthol?”
Menthol is a flavoring additive that makes it easier to inhale smoke which makes it more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes, according to the Center for Disease Control. More than 70 percent of black smokers prefer menthol, as shown in the infographics (above and below) by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. After learning that black people are more likely to die from smoking-related diseases than whites, Mondy realized his father’s affinity for menthol wasn’t a coincidence.
The now 22-year-old senior at George Washington University, started to research the campaigns big tobacco companies used to target black communities for his film project,“Black Lives/Black Lungs.” The film was published in March in conjunction with Truth Initiative, and he found some very disturbing facts.
Check out “Black Lives/Black Lungs” in the video below and keep scrolling to continue the story.
Mondy searched for keywords within the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents database like “ethnic,” “ghetto,” “lower income” and “negro.” He found countless documents that outlined tobacco companies’ strategies in its campaigns which were aimed specifically at black people. He said the latter three search terms yielded results that surprised him, but it was a document from Lorlliard Tobacco that said “negroes” smoke menthol to “mask a real/mythical odor,” which he said disturbed him the most.
“They started really seeing [that] saying menthols would make people think ‘fresh breath,’” Mondy said of his findings. “So in like the ‘60s they started targeting on that. They really started going really hard on ‘hey, smoke this, it’s healthier, fresh breath, minty,’ those kind of buzz words that would make people feel like its healthier than a regular cigarette.”
In addition to the language used in advertisements, these tobacco companies would buy a disproportionate amount of ad space in black publications like Ebony, Jet and Essence in comparison to mainstream magazines like Life, Vanity Fair and Elle. In 1962, Ebony carried twice as many cigarette ad pages as Life. These ads showed black men and women with cool and even empowering demeanors as they held a cigarette.
Many tobacco companies were ordered in 2014 by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to run corrective statements in many publications about their overall misleading messages about the negative health effects of smoking in ads, but black media outlets were completely ignored.
Mondy also found that businessmen from tobaccos companies would take “ethnic field trips” to neighborhoods highly populated with black people in the ‘60s where they would stay for hours and give away menthol cigarettes.
“You’re getting them hooked for free,” Mondy said of the these “disturbing” marketing tactics by the tobacco companies. “So they’d go and take really impressive research to kind of pinpoint the culture and see what people like, what people don’t like. And then, maybe like three months later, after that one ethnic field trip, there’d be an ad targeted specifically to that population.”
Phillip Gardiner, public health activist and co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, wrote in his 2002 study “The African Americanization of menthol cigarette use in the United States” — which Mondy refers to often in his research — that tobacco companies saw the distinct traits of the black community, philanthropy included, and adjusted their marketing accordingly to build the community’s trust:
“Because the industry was based in the South, and the majority of black people lived and worked in the South, even as many migrated to urban centers, it was to the advantage of the tobacco industry to develop a strategic relationship with the African-American community. Moreover, the tobacco industry was one of the first major corporate employers to hire and promote African-Americans, not just in the processing of tobacco but also as executives (Gardiner, 2001; Robinson & Sutton, 1994).”
Mondy called the tobacco industry’s infiltration into the black community “strategic.” Tobacco companies like Altria have donated millions of dollars to black institutions — including the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, historically black colleges and universities, and the NAACP — over the years. In 2014, Altria donated one million dollars to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture which opens this year. Mondy said these institutions would risk vital funding which could ultimately help them to have a positive impact on the black community if they spoke up against the tobacco companies.
“They have no choice,” he told HuffPost. “In the ‘70s when the NAACP needed funding for meetings, the tobacco industry was there, no one else was there. The tobacco industry was there to give money to them so they couldn’t say smoking is bad.”
Mondy said he believes the reason it hasn’t been banned is due to political reasons — Lorillard, the company which produces Newports, has donated to more than half of the black democrats in Congress compared to just under 3 percent of non-black Democrats in 2014.
In 2015, Lorillard, whose sales depended on menthols for roughly 85 percent of sales the year prior, merged with Reynolds American Inc. — the company that owns R.J, Reynolds Tobacco Company. Jacob McConnico, a spokesperson for the R.J, Reynolds Tobacco Company, provided a statement to HuffPost in regards to claims about marketing practices that specifically targeted the black community in the past few decades and today:
“I am not able to provide any insight to claims related to alleged marketing activities of up to 50 years ago. I can tell you, as it relates to our marketing today, our marketing efforts are designed to reach a wide and diverse audience of adult tobacco consumers. Those efforts are designed to include elements of interest for all adult smokers, regardless of their ethnicity or gender. Adult African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities have the same ability and right as the rest of the population to evaluate and make informed decisions about whether or not they want to use tobacco or any other consumer product. It would not be appropriate to exclude minority audiences or media from our brand communications.”
Steve Callahan, a representative for Altria Client Services, the company which owns Philip Morris USA brands such as Marlboro, Virginia Slims, among others, also said that he couldn’t speak on marketing campaigns from the past in a statement to HuffPost. He said there has been tighter regulation on tobacco companies due to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement which changed the way brands market tobacco and the 2009 Tobacco Control Act in which the Food and Drug Administration began regulating the manufacture, distribution and marketing of these products.
Also, Callahan said to HuffPost that Philip Morris USA is “committed to marketing our products responsibly by building relationships between our brands and adult smokers while taking steps designed to limit reach to unintended audiences.” He added, “Philip Morris USA markets its menthol cigarette brands using the same marketing approaches it uses for its non-menthol cigarette brands.”
Advocates like Gardiner, however, aren’t convinced that tobacco companies shouldn’t be held accountable.
“The bottom line is that African-Americans prefer menthol cigarettes because the tobacco industry pushed these products on and created the demand among this population,” Gardiner wrote in his study. “Did the industry do this on purpose? The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes.”
Despite tobacco’s deep impact on the black community, Mondy said he’s using his “Black Lives/Black Lungs” project as a vehicle of hope. With the help of Truth Initiative, he plans on interviewing key players in the fight to ban menthol and turn his findings into a documentary which he intends to premiere this summer. His efforts aren’t to shame smokers because quitting tobacco can be a hard feat, especially, if a person may have smoked his or her entire life. Instead, he said he wants to educate people on the issue.
Mondy’s approach to informing others has even made his father take quitting more seriously. He said his dad texted him in February to tell him that he had gone 30 days without smoking a cigarette, the longest in Mondy’s lifetime.
“This is like so engorged into our community,” he said. “I think it’s important to equip people with the education and information and so like, I’m not going around saying ‘smoking is bad, stop smoking.’”
Instead, Mondy said he hopes the research he provides will lead people to make an informed decision on whether they want to quit smoking or “keep buying from these companies that benefit from black death.”