Stanford research on the impact of tobacco advertising
There’s an ad for Newport cigarettes from 2011 that features a young black couple, smiling and flirting over a plate of burger and fries. Beneath them simply reads the slogan “pleasure!” A different ad in this campaign shows another young black couple, smiling over a park fence near rafters while one of them holds a cigarette. Another ad features, yes, another young black couple smiling and laughing – this time in a cafe.
Menthol cigarettes have always been heavily marketed to black Americans. And it was impactful enough that when the Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes yesterday, the agency specifically noted that the move would save the lives of 92,000 to 238,000 African Americans.
“It’s a long time coming,” said Keith Wailoo, author of the book. Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold History of Menthol Cigarettes.
In 1964, federal regulators banned tobacco companies from advertising to their core youth demographic. This meant that there were no advertisements on college campuses. No free distribution of bulk cigarettes to under 21s. “That’s when the industry began to aggressively move toward targeted marketing in black communities,” Wailoo said.
“A lot of black periodicals, like Ebony, became so addicted to tobacco advertising that they kept silent about the devastating impact of smoking in the black community,” he said.
And the push went beyond just imagery in magazines and billboards. Tobacco companies specifically found influencers in black communities — Wailoo said it could be a barber, a bellboy — and gave them free samples, to surreptitiously create markets. The companies also sponsored events like the Kool Jazz Festival, which featured a Dizzy Gillespie advertisement alongside a pack of Kools.
According to a 2018 national survey on drug use and health, 85% of black smokers preferred menthol cigarettes.
The FDA had banned the manufacture or sale of flavored cigarettes in 2009. But menthol cigarettes slipped away because of a split in the Black Congressional Caucus — many of whom have turned to donations and campaign support, a said Wailoo.
Yesterday’s FDA decision was encouraged by the NAACP, which sent out a statement earlier in the week noting the tobacco industry’s “blatant marketing practices” including the free distribution of cigarettes.
“This business model continues today with expanded marketing strategies such as supporting and funding sponsorships for events, financial support from various black leaders, reduction of menthol products in black neighborhoods, and publicity abundant in stores frequented by black communities,” reads the statement, which notes that the NAACP itself received funding from the tobacco industry until two decades ago.
According to the FDA proposal, menthol enhances nicotine addiction. And the flavor makes cigarettes “easier” to use. The industry, according to Wailoo, knows them as great “starters.”