Minorities And Low-Income Neighborhoods: A Target For Tobacco Companies
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
Between the various anti-smoking campaigns organized by Tobacco Free Florida and the Truth Initiative and with the youth smoking rate dropping to an all-time low of 6 percent, some may assume that smoking in the U.S is no longer an issue. However, further analysis reveals that tobacco use unjustly affects certain populations, including people in low-income communities and racial and ethnic minorities.
“According to the CDC, tobacco companies have historically used advertising to promote certain tobacco products to members of racial/minority communities,” said Dr. Kellie O’Dare, Bureau Chief of Tobacco Free Florida. “While smoking in Florida has declined overall, we still have too many adults smoking and too many young people either trying cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, cigars and other inhaled nicotine products.”
For decades, groups that already face adversity including those with mental illness, members of the military, as well as African Americans, low-income communities and LGBTQ individuals have been disproportionately affected by tobacco use—a result of focused exploitation by the tobacco industry.
“These communities are highly targeted by tobacco industries. If you look at a city like Washington D.C and go to an African American neighborhood you will see 10x the amount of cigarette advertising,” said Eric Asche, CMO for the Truth Initiative.
In addition to targeting minority communities, tobacco companies prefer to specifically advertise menthol cigarettes to them. These cigarettes are easier to smoke and harder to quit because the chemical compound ‘menthol’ creates a cooling effect, reduces the harshness of cigarette smoke and suppresses coughing. Those effects may make menthol cigarettes more appealing to young, inexperienced smokers, and research shows that they are more likely to addict youth and more difficult to quit than regular cigarettes. These cigarettes have long been marketed to the Black community leading to about 85 percent of all Black smokers using menthol cigarettes, a rate that is nearly three times higher than white smokers.
The tobacco industry has sponsored cultural events, targeted direct mail promotions and placed advertising in publications and venues that are popular with Black audiences.
A 2011 review featured in US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health concluded that Ebony magazine was almost 10 times more likely than People magazine to contain an advertisement for menthol cigarettes. The marketing is so pervasive, that a 2013 study found that Black children were three times more likely to recognize advertisements for Newport, the most popular menthol brand among that group, than other children.
Tobacco companies have also sponsored activities linked with cultural traditions. Including but not limited to: Mexican rodeos, American Indian powwows, Chinese New Year and Cinco de Mayo festivities and events related to Black History Month, Asian/Pacific American Heritage month and Hispanic Heritage Month.
The tobacco industry spends $9.1 billion per year marketing its products, which comes to $25 million per day, recruiting new smokers to replace the more than 1,300 smokers who die each day from tobacco-related death.
“Their business model requires them to find what they call ‘replacement’ smokers. Their business models are built on this necessity to replace their customers because when they use their product the right way a third of them go on to die from using it,” said Asche. “I can’t think of another for-profit company in the US that has a similar challenge in front of them. I think that ultimately that’s what is driving the decisions that they make, they are looking for ways to bring in the revenue that they are losing as their loyal customers die every day.”
Some tactics used by tobacco industries to appeal to low-income consumers include handing out free cigarettes to children in housing projects and issuing tobacco coupons with food stamps.
“Cigarette smoking disproportionately affects the health of people in lower socioeconomic status (SES) neighborhoods. For those who live beneath the poverty level and have a lower education, the rates of cigarette smoking are higher than the general population,” said Asche.
Tobacco still remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States killing 540,000 a year. In fact, tobacco kills half of its long-term users and almost 90 percent of adult smokers start smoking by 18 years old with 99 percent starting by the age of 26.
According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of those who live in low SES neighborhoods and smoke is nearly double the amount of those who live above the poverty line and smoke. Additionally, adults with less than a high school education who smoke is triple the amount of those who have a college degree and smoke. Their report also reveals that people in low SES neighborhoods tend to smoke cigarettes more heavily and although they are just as likely to make quit attempts, they are less likely to actually quit.
“We at the Florida Department of Health are particularly concerned with geographic and demographic inequalities across the state,” said Dr. O’Dare. “Cigarette smoking disproportionately affects the health of people with low socioeconomic status, including lower income or education. Lower income cigarette smokers suffer more from diseases caused by smoking than do smokers with higher incomes.”
In respond to this issue, organizations are fighting back against this harmful targeting. For instance, Tobacco Free Florida’s Quit Your Way program gives all Floridian tobacco users, regardless of insurance status, access to free tools and services to help them quit. Also, the Truth Initiative has created multiple anti-smoking campaigns including ‘#STOPPROFILING’ which spreads light on communities and people wrongfully targeted by the tobacco industry.
For more information regarding the facts given and for assistance to quit smoking, visit www.truthinitiative.org or www.tobaccofreeflorida.com/quityourway.
‘Tobacco is not an equal opportunity killer. It’s no coincidence that prevalence rates among certain communities are higher. Who you are, where you live, whom you love, what you do, how much money you make and your mental health all have an impact on whether or not you smoke.’