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2001
Swisher Ain't Sweet

1999
Marlboro Mild

1998 African Amer. & Tobacco Settlement

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1997 Say No to Menthol Joe

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HOME > CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT > FACT SHEET

FACT SHEET: MENTHOL CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT

Description:
The 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.

Basis for lawsuit:
The 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.

Health Issues:
Menthol 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 to emerge.

"There 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:
The 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.

"We 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.

What could the lawsuit hope to accomplish?
In addition to monetary damages, the menthol lawsuit seeks:

  • A permanent injunction to stop all sales and marketing of menthol cigarettes;
  • Public disclosure of all tobacco industry research on the health effects of menthol in tobacco products;
  • The establishment of a program to educate the public on the health risks of menthol in tobacco products;
  • The establishment of special cessation programs to help smokers who are addicted to mentholated tobacco products.

What will be the long-term benefits to the Black community?
Whether 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:

  • Increase pressure on tobacco companies to publicly disclose their research on menthol;
  • Educate the general public on the health effects of menthol in cigarettes;
  • Show the African American community the duplicity of tobacco industry behavior;
  • Encourage government and private institutions to do more research on mentholated cigarettes;
  • Demonstrate 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;
  • Convince smokers of menthol cigarettes to quit and provide more effective ways for them to become EX-smokers.
  • Help African American youth remain tobacco-free, since nine out of ten African American teenagers who smoke select menthol brands.

What are the next steps?
NAAAPI 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.

An 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.

For 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.

Revised 5/18/01

Fact sheet for the lawsuit.

Fact sheet for menthol in cigarettes.

Article about the Menthol lawsuit.

Other media coverage on the lawsuit.

The Civil Rights lawsuit.

“Rev. Jesse Brown, et al., versus Philip Morris Inc., et al.”



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National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery
1231 N Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19122 P: 215-235-6488 F: 215-235-6491 E: info@naaapi.org