Mar. 13 1997
Washington, DC - The CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS today sounded the March Tobacco Smoke Alarm on the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company for its blatant attempt to target African American youth. At a Washington, D.C. press conference the CAMPAIGN joined with black clergy from across the nation who are the leading the "Say No to Menthol Joe Community Crusade" -- a national grassroots effort to call on retailers and media organizations to stop selling the new Camel Menthol cigarette. Participating in today’s press conference were Rev. Jesse Brown, Jr. from Philadelphia, a founder of the National Association for African American Positive Imagery (NAAAPI), Rev. Dr. Alpha E. Brown from Washington, D.C., chair of the ‘Cause Children Count Coalition, Inc., and concerned clergy from around the country. NAAAPI launched the Community Crusade, has led protests against local retailers selling Camel Menthols, and has distributed letters and petitions calling on them to remove the brand. Protests have already taken place in Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles. More are planned throughout the country. "It is extremely upsetting to see R.J. Reynolds target the African American community, and particularly our children, with their products of death," Rev. Jesse Brown said. "Their decision to sell a new menthol version of Camel cigarettes is unconscionable. As part of a national crusade against Camel Menthols, we’re seeking the total withdrawal of the cigarette brand from store shelves." Rev. Jesse Brown was involved in the effort to stop RJR the last time they tried to target the African American community. He and other community leaders fought against "Uptown" brand menthol cigarettes in 1991, which RJR decided not to market after heavy public pressure. R.J. Reynolds’ multi-million dollar roll-out of Camel Menthol is accompanied by billboards, slick magazine layouts, bus and taxi ads, newspaper ads, and in-store promotions. This marks the first time that the company has marketed Camel in a menthol version. The promotional campaign is heavily skewed toward African American communities and publications. Nearly 80 percent of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes compared to fewer than 25 percent of white smokers. Other groups with higher than average use of menthols cigarettes include Latinos. "Our neighborhoods and media were already full of alcohol and tobacco ads. Now, clearly seeking a greater market share, RJR is boldly leading a caravan of Joe Camels almost everywhere our children walk and play," said Dr. Alpha Brown. "In the ad RJR ran in the Black History Month edition of Ebony magazine, the cartoon camels are seductively holding out the product to a passing kid. RJR believes there are a lot of black children who don’t smoke cigarettes, but could probably be persuaded to start with a little encouragement from Smooth Joe and his camel buddies." "We’re sounding the Tobacco Smoke Alarm because R.J. Reynolds has set another low in exploitative youth marketing schemes," CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS President Bill Novelli said. "The ‘Menthol Joe’ campaign is aimed squarely at getting black youth addicted to Camel cigarettes. African American children have historically low rates of smoking addiction, but RJR is trying to change all that with cleverly deceptive marketing tactics." The CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS took a cursory look at a number of popular magazines currently on the news stand. None of the general audience magazines contained Camel Menthol ads. Every magazine with predominately African American readership -- except one -- contained an ad for Menthol Joe. "R.J. Reynolds can try to duck and deny this one, but the evidence against them is clear," Rev. Jesse Brown said. "The advertising campaign is targeted toward the black community, which suffers disproportionately from tobacco related death and disease." "In the face of Food and Drug Administration action to curtail youth marketing, RJR and the rest of the tobacco industry are quickly trying to exploit new markets," Novelli said. "Today, we’re issuing a warning that the Menthol Joe effort is a thinly disguised scheme to drive up tobacco addiction among African American children. Both parents and responsible retailers need to send a clear message to RJR that Menthol Joe is not welcome in their neighborhood." The proposed Food and Drug Administration rule is a comprehensive initiative to reduce youth tobacco consumption by 50 percent over seven years through limiting youth access to tobacco and restricting tobacco industry marketing aimed at children. The CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS can be reached by email at: TobaccoSmokeAlarm@TobaccoFreeKids.org. NAAAPI can be reached by email at: NAAPI@msn.com. The CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS is the largest initiative ever undertaken to decrease youth tobacco use in the United States. Its mandate is to focus the nation’s attention and action on keeping tobacco marketing from seducing children and making tobacco less accessible to kids. NAAAPI is one of more than 100 CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS member organizations. The group was formed in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1991 by advocates from around the nation who had been involved in protests against the marketing of tobacco and alcohol products in black communities.