The Exploitation of
We don’t smoke that s***. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the Black and the stupid.” According to David
Goerlitz, who was the lead model for Winston cigarettes in the early 90’s, these words were spoken to him by an R.J. Reynolds executive.
Big tobacco targets the young because they are the future generation of smokers. The marketing strategies deployed by them seek to entice
people and get them hooked on cigarettes for life. R.J Reynolds believes that younger adult smokers are the only source of replacement
smokers and that if younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry will decline. And while few teens are smoking cigarettes these days,
more have converted to other tobacco products like hookahs or water pipes, which some argue are no safer than actual cigarettes. Teens are
turning to these types of tobacco products for the flavor and the notion that they are safer than tobacco, but some studies indicate that these
products are more dangerous
Socioeconomically, the poor smoke at higher rates than the wealthy. One of the many reasons for this is that tobacco companies bombard low-
income communities with cigarette advertising. People who are living in these communities cope with their day-t- day struggles by turning to
cigarettes as a means of seeking stress relief. The unfortunate reality is that there are very few outlets for the poor and many more will continue
to turn to cigarettes without some intervention.
In the United States, over 45,000 African Americans die each year from smoking-related diseases according to the Campaign for Tobacco- Fee
Also, smoking-related disease illnesses are the number one cause of death in the African American community, outpacing all other causes of
death, including homicide, AIDS, diabetes, and accidents.
One of the factors that contribute to these deaths has to do with the brand of cigarettes that African Americans prefer to smoke. Mentholated
cigarettes are their preferred choice. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report finding that menthol cigarettes lead
to an increase in smoking among youth and young adults due to higher addition rates combined with lower rates of cessation. These deaths
continue to be one of the primary driving actors behind the health disparities that continue to plague the U.S.
A few days ago, I went to a local gas station and couldn’t help but notice all the brightly colored ads for Newport, Kool and Salem. The Salem ad
featured an attractive couple lying on the lush green grass with the caption, “Springtime! It happens every Salem.” And the Kool ad said, “So
good, it’s got to be Kool!” Mentholated cigarettes are highly popular among African Americans. Newport had the words like “Alive with
pleasure!” If I had to bet, I would say that very few of the models featured on these ads use the product, much like the R.J. Reynolds executive
mentioned earlier, but the money poured into advertising a product that has been shown to kill more than six million Americans every year
seems to be neverending.
So, the challenge for us is how we stop the exploitation in communities of color. Big Tobacco has deep pockets and will continue its unhealthy
assault on all Americans. Anti-smoking campaign ads are one way, but we also need to encourage young people that if they don’t smoke, don’t
start and encourage them to give up smoking if they do. There are medications and cessation support groups that can help if there is a desire
and willingness to quit. Take care of yourselves and have a great Black History Month!