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Big Tobacco’s Predatory Marketing Has Had a Devastating Impact on Black Health

For decades, the tobacco industry has targeted Black Americans, especially youth, with marketing for menthol cigarettes and other tobacco products like flavored cigars.

The tobacco industry’s predatory marketing has had a devastating impact on Black health and lives. Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death among Black Americans, claiming 45,000 Black lives each year. Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by tobacco use and die at higher rates than other groups from tobacco-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the Black community.

Now there is growing evidence that smoking and other tobacco use can increase risk for Covid-19, which has so disproportionately impacted Black Americans. There has never been a more important time to stop the tobacco industry from targeting Black Americans and other groups, prevent kids from using tobacco and help more tobacco users quit.

Slideshow: How Big Tobacco Targets Black Americans

 

Big Tobacco Targets Black Americans

Here are the facts about the tobacco industry’s deadly targeting of Black Americans:

  • For more than 50 years, the tobacco industry has targeted Black Americans with pervasive marketing of menthol cigarettes through sponsorship of community and music events, magazine advertising and retail promotions. Today, menthol cigarettes continue to be heavily advertised, widely available and priced cheaper in Black communities, making them especially appealing to price-sensitive youth.
  • The industry’s predatory marketing has worked all too well. In the 1950s, less than 10% of Black smokers used menthol cigarettes. Today, about 70% of Black youth smokers and 85% of all Black smokers smoke menthols.
  • Menthol masks the harshness of smoking and makes cigarettes more addictive, making it easier for kids to start smoking and harder for addicted smokers to quit. Black smokers have higher levels of nicotine dependence because of their use of menthol cigarettes. While Black smokers are more likely to try to quit smoking, they are less likely to successfully quit.
  • The tobacco industry also targets Black communities and youth with marketing for cheap, flavored cigars, which can be smoked like cigarettes. These products are sold in a wide assortment of kid-friendly flavors and can be as cheap as three for 99 cents, making them highly appealing to kids. In 2019, 12.3% of Black high school students smoked cigars, compared to 7.6% of all high school students.
  • Today, the tobacco industry is following its menthol playbook by addicting a new generation of kids with e-cigarettes in appealing flavors like bubble gum, mint, mango – and menthol. They continue to prey on the most vulnerable to maximize profits and ensure the survival of the industry.

Policymakers Must Act to Protect Health and Save Lives

There are immediate steps the FDA, Congress and state and local policymakers should take to stop the tobacco industry’s predatory practices, reduce tobacco-related health disparities and save lives. These include:

  • End the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. The FDA has the authority to do this, but has repeatedly failed to act. So other policymakers are stepping up:

    • In February 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act, which would prohibit all flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The Senate should approve this bill as well. This legislation is supported by over 75 public health, medical, education and civil rights organizations. Supporting groups include the NAACP, the National Medical Association, the Association of Black Cardiologists, Black Women’s Health Imperative, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and the National Black Nurses Association.

    • A growing number of states and cities are also taking action. Five states – California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island – have adopted policies ending the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, and California and Massachusetts became the first states to also prohibit the sale of other flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.

  • Expand and promote coverage of tobacco cessation treatments. U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) have introduced legislation – the Quit Because of COVID-19 Act – to ensure Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollees have barrier-free access to the full array of proven tobacco cessation treatments at this critical time. This legislation will save lives and reduce health disparities, especially as Medicaid enrollees smoke at more than twice the rate of adults with private health insurance (23.9% to 10.5%). These services must also be widely promoted so health care providers and tobacco users are aware of them.

These actions will improve health and save lives among Black Americans. They are needed now, more than ever, as we combat the Covid-19 pandemic and the shocking health disparities facing our nation.