CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT
National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery
(NAAAPI), the Uptown Coalition for Tobacco Control and Public
Health, and individual African American smokers of menthol
cigarettes filed a civil rights class-action lawsuit against
U.S. tobacco companies that manufacture menthol cigarettes
on October 19, 1998. The lawsuit, Jesse
Brown et. al. v. Philip
Morris et. al., charges that tobacco companies deliberately
targeted African Americans with menthol, a more deadly form
of cigarettes. Reverend Jesse W. Brown, Jr., lead plaintiff,
is the founding president of NAAAPI and chairs the Uptown
Coalition, located in Philadelphia, PA. On September 23, 1999,
U.S. District Judge John R. Padova dismissed the lawsuit.
An appeal of the Judge's dismissal was filed on October 8,
1999 and legal briefs were submitted to the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit on June 15, 2000 and again on
August 10, 2000. In a split decision announced on May 18,
2001, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal
of the lower federal court.
menthol lawsuit is based on the Civil Rights Acts of 1866
and 1870 and the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.
It is believed to be the first lawsuit filed against the tobacco
industry on behalf of African Americans.
has been suspected for many years as an important factor in
the high death rates of African-Americans from smoking-related
diseases. (Research shows that African Americans smoke fewer
cigarettes than White Americans, yet suffer worse health effects.)
But not until the secret tobacco industry's documents became
public in the late 1990s did the real dangers of menthol begin
has been an urban legend in Black communities for decades
that said menthol was deadly," Reverend Brown said. "When
we compare the menthol smoking rates in our community with
the rate of death from tobacco use, we have to ask: was some
part of the legend true?"
target marketing of menthol cigarettes to African Americans
has been done through use of Black-oriented media, billboards
in Black communities, promotional items and special events.
believe that the tobacco companies have deliberately targeted
the African American community with a particularly defective
and deadly form of cigarettes -- menthol. And unfortunately,
menthol cigarettes are now the preferred brand for Black youth,"
Reverend Brown said.
could the lawsuit hope to accomplish?
addition to monetary damages, the menthol lawsuit seeks:
permanent injunction to stop all sales and marketing of
disclosure of all tobacco industry research on the health
effects of menthol in tobacco products;
establishment of a program to educate the public on the
health risks of menthol in tobacco products;
establishment of special cessation programs to help smokers
who are addicted to mentholated tobacco products.
will be the long-term benefits to the Black community?
successful in the courts or not, the filing of the menthol
civil rights lawsuit increased public awareness of the issue
of mentholated cigarettes and served to:
pressure on tobacco companies to publicly disclose their
research on menthol;
the general public on the health effects of menthol in cigarettes;
the African American community the duplicity of tobacco
government and private institutions to do more research
on mentholated cigarettes;
why the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) should be given
legal power and authority to regulate all additives in cigarettes
and other tobacco products, such as menthol;
smokers of menthol cigarettes to quit and provide more effective
ways for them to become EX-smokers.
African American youth remain tobacco-free, since nine out
of ten African American teenagers who smoke select menthol
are the next steps?
asks that organizations of youth and adults in Black communities
throughout the country to begin active health campaigns to
convince smokers of menthol cigarettes in our communities
to Quit Today! and to encourage more attention to the dangers
of menthol by government agencies and health groups.
international conference on menthol in cigarettes is planned
for this fall in Atlanta. This represents the first time that
government researchers have looked at the menthol issue in
detail. The lead attorney in the menthol lawsuit will be one
of the speakers.
more information on planned activities to inform Black smokers
about the dangers of menthol cigarettes or to suggest action
strategies, contact NAAAPI at 215-235-6488.