How Tobacco Companies Strategically Infiltrated Black Communities

A college student’s film project reveals the targeted effort to push menthols onto the black populace.

Lincoln Mondy, a 22-year-old biracial senior at George Washington University, became curious about his black father’s affinity to menthol flavored cigarettes, when all the efforts to help him quit failed.

After realizing that black people are more likely to die from smoking-related diseases than white, Mondy decided to take a closer look at the strategies used by big tobacco companies to target black communities in his film project, “Black Lives/Black Lungs.”

During the course of his research, Mondy found an ocean of documents that revealed the strategic moves, which were aimed specifically at black people.

Among his findings there was a disturbing document from Lorlliard Tobacco that said “negroes” smoke menthol to “mask a real/mythical odor”.

Based on this belief, tobacco companies adopted the concept of telling black people that menthol cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes and make breath fresh and is they are minty.

These companies targeted African-Americans from all angles – buying up disproportionate amount of ad space in black publications in comparison to mainstream magazines, and showing black men and women with cool and even empowering demeanors as they held cigarettes.

Businessmen from tobacco companies took what they called “ethic field trips” to African American neighborhoods and gave away mentholated cigarettes in a bid to get the residents addicted.

After getting the people addicted to the leading preventable cause of deaths, large tobacco companies would buy off black institutions, including the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, historically black colleges and universities, the NAACP and many others, preventing them from speaking up about the impact of smoking on the African-American communities.

Notable examples are the tobacco industry’s funding of NAACP meetings in the 1970’s, and most recent $1 million donation made by Altria in 2014, to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Despite statistical data showing that 44.5 percent of black smokers would quit smoking tobacco if menthol was banned, a 2009 law banned all other flavor addictives but menthol.

From Mondy’s research, it is quite clear that like many other addictive substances mentholated cigarettes were pushed on the African-American community by the tobacco industry that would rather benefit from black deaths than get rid of its highly dangerous product.

We hope the findings of this research educate and help people decide to quit smoking.

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