By Jessica Strong Last June, President Obama signed a law authorizing the FDA to regulate tobacco and creating a panel for that task. Now the panel’s taking up the question of whether to ban menthol-flavoring in cigarettes, which critics say is used to cover up the taste of cigarettes and recruit young smokers. Smoking critics have long argued the “menthol marketing ploy” is particularly aimed at Black smokers, who coincidentally suffer from the highest rates of smoking-related diseases. Some American Lung Association statistics on the marketing:
- The use of menthol cigarettes is disproportionately high among African Americans. Almost 84 percent of African American smokers aged 12 years or older reported smoking a mentholated brand of cigarette compared to 24 and 32 percent of their Caucasian and Hispanic counterparts, respectively.
- As smoking declines among the white non-Hispanic population, tobacco companies have targeted both African-Americans and Hispanics with intensive merchandising, which includes advertising in media oriented to these communities and sponsorship of civic groups and athletic, cultural, and entertainment events.
- African American communities have been bombarded with cigarette advertising. Since the signing of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in 1998 through 2005, the average youth in the United States is annually exposed to 559 tobacco ads, every adult female 617 advertisements, and every African-American adult 892 ads. Money spent on magazine advertising of mentholated cigarettes, popular with African-Americans, increased from 13 percent of total ad expenditures in 1998 to 49 percent in 2005.
- The former Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company (now part of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company) ran a campaign for Kool cigarettes aimed at black youths in 2006 that featured hip-hop DJ competitions, themed cigarette packs, and was billed as a “celebration” of hip-hop music and culture.