Tobacco Industry’s Design for Civil Wrongs

BY JUDY MAYS, Tobacco Control Advocate/Coordinator, Health Coalition of Delaware County

At the very heart of the civil rights movement is the desire and demand for social equality. For over six decades, the tobacco industry has positioned favor in the African-American community by providing equal opportunity programs and financial support of important events and programs in the community. Yet, despite the good they claim to do, the tobacco industry continues to campaign and has done much in trying to protect its reputation while promoting a harmful and potentially lethal product.

The tobacco industry reportedly spends about $34 million a day ($13.3 billion annually) in advertising markets. It uses advertising strategies based on ethnic and cultural profiles which are often demeaning. One such campaign considered a brand called YBS, an acronym for YOUNG, BLACK and STUPID. Despite its failure, and the failure of similar brands such as X and Uptown, the tobacco industry does not give up.

In fact, in 2004, Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company marketed the KOOL MIXX campaign targeting young African-American men. The campaign entailed a DJ competition, while promoting cigarettes that depicted a hip-hop mural. When placed side by side, the packs pictured a DJ and night club scene. The cigarettes were available in flavors such as Caribbean Chill, Midnight Berry, Mocha, and Mintrique. It wasn’t until the Attorneys General from 33 states notified the company to cease-and-desist the campaign. The states of Illinois, Maryland and New York sued Brown and Williamson over this overt targeting of African-American youth and won.

Even though many groups no longer accept funding from the tobacco industry and key leaders in the African-American community, such as late Indiana Black Expo president Rev. Charles Williams, have worked to educate and promote tobacco cessation, African-American men have the highest rate and risk of lung cancer in the United States. The evidence is conclusive that the fight is not over. It won’t be over until the African-American community stands up to the tobacco industry and refuses to fall for its demeaning advertising tactics.

For more information on quitting tobacco, visit or call the Indiana Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

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Dean Baker

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.
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