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Targetting of African Americans

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Vernellia R. Randall
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II. Tobacco Industry Targeting of the African-American Community

For well over three decades, cigarette manufacturers have specifically targeted the African-American community.(25) Recognizing a declining consumer base, tobacco companies have attempted to protect their profits by increasing smoking among African-Americans.(26) It splashed inducements to smoke on billboards and buses, on subways, and in African-American publications.(27) They sponsored athletic events, outdoor media campaigns, sports/cultural events, and academic scholarships.(28) The tobacco industry developed specially named brands targeted specifically toward African-Americans.(29) 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.(30) Almost 60% of the billboards in the black neighborhoods advertised cigarettes and alcoholic beverages.(31) In another study of seventy-three billboards along nineteen blocks in a black neighborhood in Philadelphia, sixty advertised cigarettes or alcohol.(32) 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.(33) Three-fourths of the billboards were in predominately poor African-American neighborhoods.(34) 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.(35) Furthermore, the advertisements are usually for menthol cigarettes, which are more popular with African- Americans and which have additional significant medical effects.(36)

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.(37) For instance, in an eight-year period there were 1,477 tobacco advertisements in Jet, Ebony, and Essence.(38) The tobacco industry poured millions of dollars into advertising in newspapers and magazines that serve the African- American community.(39)

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. . . ."(40)

B. Sponsorship and Donations

The tobacco industry has been a significant sponsor of athletic, civil, cultural and entertainment events.(41) 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.(42) 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.(43)

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 community.(44) Key civil rights leaders sat on the boards of tobacco companies;(45) African-American organizations received hundreds of thousands of dollars of tobacco money a year;(46) and black Congress members received significant support from the tobacco industry.(47) 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.(48)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.(49) 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.(50)

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.(51) 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.(52) Furthermore, at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation meeting, despite having identified sixty- five issues to be addressed, not one dealt specifically with smoking.(53)

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.(54) 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.(55) However, the marketing plan called for ads suggesting glamour, high fashion, and nightlife.(56) 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.(57) Because of the pressure of public outrage, R.J. Reynolds Company canceled the test marketing of Uptown.(58)
 

In 1995, a cigarette distributor in Massachusetts packaged cigarettes in red, black and green, placed an Xon them, and called them Menthol X.(59) Red, black, and green are the symbolic colors of black liberation and "X" is associated with Malcom X.(60) The Massachusetts community forced the distributor to pull "Menthol X" off the shelves.(61) In 1997, R.J. Reynolds introduced a mentholated version of Camel.(62) Many believed that such a step was an aggressive target toward the African-American community that disproportionately smoked menthol cigarettes.(63) The California African- American community protested R.J. Reynold's plan and the cigarette was withdrawn.(64)

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.(65) At the same time, even though the company was already using "virtually all known vehicles to reach blacks effectively and efficiently,"(66) Brown & Williamson recommended spending more due to a response to trends among young people of the ages sixteen to twenty-four.(67) "With this additional transit effort, Kool would cover the top twenty-five markets in terms of absolute Negroes."(68) 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."(69)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."(70)
 

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."(71) The memorandum also suggested that advertisements should avoid physical contact between models of different races.(72)

A 1973 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company marketing profile included a study of black smokers ages fourteen to twenty.(73) In a 1978 research study, Lorillard Tobacco Company, noting the success of its Newport brand and that the brand was being purchased by African-Americans of all ages, emphasized that "the base of our business is the [black] high school student."(74)

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."(75)

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."(76) In fact, R.J. Reynolds asserted that the African-American community was being unreasonable in believing that market strategy would target a specific population.(77) 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."(78) The documents prove that African-American perceptions were accurate.

 

Introduction
Proposed National Settlement
Targetting of African Americans
Being a Black Smoker
Restructuring theTobacco Settlement

 

 

25. FN24. See generally Philip Mattera, RJR Nabisco: Transnational Tobacco Trafficker, Multinational Monitor, Jan. 1992, at 38, 41 (discussing RJR Nabisco aggressively hawking cigarettes to vulnerable populations, such as African- Americans, and poor women and children in the United States, third world and Eastern European citizens); D.J. Moore et al., Target Marketing of Tobacco and Alcohol-Related Products to Ethnic Minority Groups in the United States, 6 Ethnicity & Disease 83, 98 (1996); Sylvia A. Law, Addiction, Autonomy and Advertising, 77 Iowa L. Rev. 909 n.14 (1992); Alan Blum, The Blue Collar, Black Target, Wash. Post, May 18, 1986, at F1; Paul Cotton, Tobacco Foes Attack Ads that Target Women, Minorities, Teens, and the Poor, 26 JAMA 1505 (1990).

26. FN25. See generally Ronald M. Davis, Current Trends in Cigarette Advertising and Marketing, 316 New Eng. J. Med. 725 (1987); Why Big Tobacco Woos Minorities, 21 Adweek's Marketing Wk. 20 (1990) (discussing the declining smoking rates for whites as an explanation for tobacco marketers targeting minorities).

27. FN26. See generally D.G. Altman et al., Alcohol and Cigarette Advertising on Billboards; 64 Health Educ. Res. 487 (1991) (reporting research where black neighborhoods had the highest rate of billboards per 1,000 population and had proportionately more tobacco and alcohol billboards than white or Asian neighborhoods); J. Clark, Targeting Blacks in Cigarette Billboard Advertising: Results from Down South, 2 Nursing Scan In Oncology 12 (1993) (reporting results of a cross-sectional survey of tobacco advertising through billboards in black and white neighborhoods in Columbia, South Carolina where 22% of the advertisements were for cigarettes with 25% occurring in predominantly black neighborhoods); Lovell Jones, Insidious the Way Cigarette Makers Target Minorities, Houston Chron., Mar. 24, 1996, at 4, available in 1996 WL 5588921.

28. FN27. See generally Linda Williams, Tobacco Companies Target Blacks with Ads, Donations, and Festivals, Wall St. J., Oct. 6, 1986.

29. FN28. See generally K. Michael Cummings et al., Cigarette Advertising and Black-White Differences in Cigarette Brand Preference, 102 Pub. Health Rep. 698 (1987).

30. FN29. Symposium, Killer Billboards, 83 Bus. & Soc'y Rev. 12, 14 (1992); Kathryn A. Kelly, The Target Marketing of Alcohol and Tobacco Billboards to Minority Communities, 5 U. Fla. J.L. & Pub. Pol'y 33, 59-60 & nn.215-17 (1992).

31. FN30. Id.

32. FN31. Barnett Wright, 'Liquid Crack': Fortified Beer Pours into Black Community, Phila. Trib., Apr. 30, 1993, at 1A.

33. FN32. Elaine M. Johnson, Symposium, Harmful Targeting, 83 Bus. & Soc'y Rev. 16 (1992).

34. FN33. Id.

35. FN34. See Andrew A. Skolnick, National Medical Association Unveils Billboard Campaign to Promote Health in Black Communities, 270 JAMA 1166, 1168 (1993).

36. FN35. See Sylvia A. Law, Addiction, Autonomy and Advertising, 77 Iowa L. Rev. 909, 913 (1992).

37. FN36. Id.

38. FN37. See generally David G. Altman, How an Unhealthy Product Is Sold: Cigarette Advertising in Magazines, 1960-1985, 37 J. Comm. Health 95-106 (1987); Michael C. Fiore et al., Trends in Cigarette Smoking in the United States: The Changing Influence of Gender and Race, 261 JAMA 49 (1989); Laurie Hoffman-Goetz et al., Cancer Coverage and Tobacco Advertising in African-American Popular Magazines, 22 J. Comm. Health 261, available in 1997 WL 10117550.

39. FN38. The advertisements tend to be in small newspapers that serve blacks. However, the industry also advertises extensively in prominent African-American magazines. For instance, the April 1997 cover of Ebony had a headline, "Prostate Cancer: Why the Black Death Rate Is So High." The back cover is an ad for Capri cigarettes. The February 1997 issue of Ebony for Black History Month had ads for Camel, Misty, Newport, Virginia Slims and Capri. Derrick Jackson, Let Blacks Rethink Tobacco Underwriting, Milwaukee J. & Sentinel, July 12, 1997, at 10, available in 1997 WL 4810004.

40. FN39. Id.

41. FN40. See Law, supra note 35, at 913.

42. FN41. Claudia Morain, Kiss of Death: African-Americans and the Tobacco Industry, Am. Med. News, Nov. 15, 1993, at 13.

43. FN42. See Law, supra note 35, at 913.

44. FN43. See Morain, supra note 41, at 13. Philip Morris supported Operation PUSH, the Rev. Jesse Jackson's civil rights organization. The tobacco giant brought together presidents of black colleges for a Martin Luther King Jr., birthday remembrance, produced half-hour radio programs to celebrate Black History Month, and commemorated a Bill of Rights anniversary with ads featuring prominent African-American leaders. It supports the Dance Theater of Harlem and sponsors rhythm-and-blues concerts, heavily advertised in black-oriented media, in cities with large black populations.

45. FN44. For example, former Urban League President Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., who headed President Clinton's transition team, sits on the RJR Nabisco Holdings Corporation board. Raymond Pritchard, who recently retired as chairman and CEO of Brown and Williamson Company, sat on the board of the National Urban League from 1986 to 1992. Hugh Cullman, a one-time vice chairman of Philip Morris, served as chairman of the United Negro College Fund from 1987 to 1989. Whitney Young, the late Urban League chief, sat on the board of Philip Morris. His widow, Margaret B. Young, inherited the chair. Id.; Danny R. Johnson, Tobacco Stains, 56 Progressive 26 (1992) (discussing how cigarette companies have bought into civil rights groups even though the tobacco-related disease is one of the leading causes of death of African-Americans).

46. FN45. Organizations known to receive tobacco funding include the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the National Caucus of Black State Legislator, the United Negro College Fund, the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, the National Council of Negro Women, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the Dance Theater of Harlem, the Ebony Magazine Fashion Fair, and the National Minority AIDS Council. See generally Jackson, supra note 38. Cf. Million Dollar Gift Helps Restore Abandoned Shaw University Building That Housed First Black Medical School, N.Y. Beacon, Oct. 23, 1996, at 35, available in 1996 WL 15800903 (noting the Phillip Morris Companies' one million dollar donation to United Negro College Fund).

47. FN46. In 1986, 21 of the 39 members of the Congressional Black Caucus received at least $5,000 in campaign contributions from the tobacco companies. Derrick Jackson, Why Blacks Are Losing Tobacco War, Dallas Morning News, June 3, 1997, at 21A, available in 1997 WL 2674892 (naming several highly visible African- Americans in Congress who received at least $5000 of tobacco money: Senator Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois and Representatives Mel Watt of North Carolina, Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, Floyd Flake of New York, Carrie Meek of Florida, Louis Stokes of Ohio, J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, William Clay of Missouri and Maxine Waters and Julian Dixon of California).

48. FN47. Id.

49. FN48. See generally Bob Herbert, Tobacco Hush Money for Black Leaders, 88 Bus. & Soc'y Rev. 62 (1994) (stating the tobacco companies are buying the silence of African-American leaders by means of heavy contributions to the causes and charities of the black community, causing these leaders to swallow criticism of smoking, which kills 45,000 African-Americans a year); Morain, supra note 41 (noting the tobacco industry befriends African-American causes, while cigarettes devastate black health).

50. FN49. See Jackson, supra note 38, at 10.

51. FN50. James W. Brosnan, Black Caucus Examines Tobacco Lobby's Sway, Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.), Sept. 15, 1996, at A1, available in 1996 WL 11064351.

52. FN51. Id.

53. FN52. Id.

54. FN53. See John Hoeffel, Group Says Reynolds Aims Ads at Black Kids, Winston- Salem J. (N.C.), Mar. 14, 1997, at A1, available in 1997 WL 9361954 (Reverend Jesse Brown, Jr. of Philadelphia, founder of National Association for African- American Positive Imagery, led the opposition to Uptown); Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Joe Camel Symbol of Black America's Smoking Gun, New Pitt. Courier, July 12, 1997, at A7, available in 1997 WL 11699804; Anthony Ramirez, A Cigarette Campaign Under Fire, N.Y. Times, Jan. 12, 1990, at D1.

55. FN54. Ramirez, supra note 53, at D1.

56. FN55. Philip J. Hilts, Health Chief Assails a Tobacco Producer for Aiming at Blacks, N.Y. Times, Jan. 19, 1990, at A1.

57. FN56. Id.

58. FN57. Anthony Ramirez, Reynolds, After Protests, Cancels Cigarette Aimed at Black Smokers, N.Y. Times, Jan. 20, 1990, at A1.

59. FN58. Hutchinson, supra note 53, at A7.

60. FN59. See Mike Smith, Banner Combines Confederate Flag, Colors of Black Liberation, Atlanta J. & Const., Apr. 23, 1994, at A4.

61. FN60. Id.

62. FN61. Leonard Greene, Blacks Fight Back Against Lure of Tobacco Giants, Boston Herald, May 28, 1997, at A8, available in 1997 WL 5401571.

63. FN62. Id.

64. FN63. See Kia Morgan Allen, Black Clergy Attack Menthol Joe, Dayton Daily News, Mar. 14, 1997, at 6A, available in 1997 WL 3931006; Tony Perry, New Camel Cigarette Draws Protest Smoking, L.A. Times, Mar. 16, 1997, at A26, available in 1997 WL 219172.

65. FN64. Tobacco Industry's Ad Assault on Blacks Is Detailed in Records, supra note 22, at A14.

66. FN65. Id.

67. FN66. Id.

68. FN67. Id.

69. FN68. Henry Weinstein & Alissa J. Rubin, Tobacco Firms Targeted Blacks, Documents Show, L.A. Times, Feb. 6, 1998, at A1, available in 1998 WL 2395899.

70. FN69. Greene, supra note 61, at A8.

71. FN70. US Tobacco Documents Show How Industry Targeted Black Community, Agence Fr.-Presse, Feb. 6, 1998, available in 1998 WL 2216146.

72. FN71. Id.

73. FN72. Weinstein & Rubin, supra note 68, at A1.

74. FN73. Id.

75. FN74. Cigarette Company Considered 'Sweets' to Lure Youngsters; Another Looked for Ways to Attract Blacks, Say Newly Unveiled Papers, Balt. Sun, Feb. 6, 1998, at 3A, available in 1998 WL 4950564.

76. FN75. Perry, supra note 63, at A26 (noting assertion by a representative of RJ Reynolds that only 5 of 51 national publications have as their primary readership African-Americans).

77. FN76. Hoeffel, supra note 53, at A1.

78. FN77. Karen Grigsby Bates, Tobacco Pins a Bull's-Eye on Black Kids Smoking: Industry Papers from the 1970s Help Explain the Preponderance of Cigarette Advertising in the Inner City, L.A. Times, Feb. 20, 1998, at B7, available in 1998 WL 2397287.

 

 
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Professor Vernellia R. Randall
Institute on Race, Health Care and the Law
The University of Dayton School of Law
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Email: randall@udayton.edu

 

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