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HOME > CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT > MENTHOL LAWSUIT DOCUMENTS

NAAAPI NEWS RELEASE
October 21, 1998

African American Activists Seek End to Menthol Cigarettes in Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Tobacco Companies

Philadelphia, PA —The Uptown Coalition for Tobacco Control and Public Health and the National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery (NAAAPI) have joined with individual African American current and former smokers of menthol cigarettes in a landmark national civil rights lawsuit against tobacco companies that manufacture mentholated tobacco products and their agents. The class action lawsuit, with Reverend Jesse W. Brown, Jr. and the Uptown Coalition as lead plaintiffs, was filed in Federal District Court in Philadelphia on October 19, 1998, based on the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1870 and the 13th and !4th Amendments. William R. Adams, Jr. Esq. and Stephen Sheller, Esq., who are co-counsel, briefed the media on the lawsuit on October 21 at a news conference.

The lawsuit seeks "a permanent injunction to require the Tobacco Companies to immediately cease and desist from manufacturing, selling and promoting menthol tobacco products and targeting such defective products to Black Americans." In addition, the lawsuit asks the court to require the companies and their agents to "publicly disclose" their secret research on menthol, to establish a public education program on the dangers of mentholated tobacco products, and to establish smoking and smokeless tobacco cessation programs for African American menthol smokers.

According to Reverend Jesse W. Brown, Jr. — founding president of NAAAPI, chair of the Uptown Coalition and lead plaintiff — information in the documents released earlier this year as part of the Minnesota Tobacco Settlement show that the tobacco company files contain previously-hidden studies on menthol going back 50 years.

"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?"

"Bringing suit against the makers of menthol cigarettes in federal court is a way to get at the truth because it will force the tobacco companies to open their private research studies on menthol to public view. " Reverend Brown is one of the original spokespersons for the community coalition that fought successfully against the test-marking of the Uptown cigarette in Philadelphia, PA in 1990. (Uptown was a menthol cigarette that was especially designed for African American smokers.) In 1995, the NAAAPI affiliate in Boston — Churches Organized to Stop Tobacco (COST) — was successful in removing X cigarettes, a local menthol brand, from store shelves. NAAAPI also initiated the national "Say No to Menthol Joe Community Crusade" last year that fought the use of "Smooth Joe Camel" in marketing its new menthol version of Camel cigarettes in Black communities and Black media.

Studies in the 1998 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Tobacco Use in Racial/Ethnic Minorities (and in other major journals), strongly suggestion that the addition of menthol to cigarettes allows smokers to inhale more deeply. Some researchers feel this may be one of the reasons why African Americans suffer higher rates of death from smoking even though, on average, African Americans smoke 35% fewer cigarettes per day than Whites.

Documents already uncovered by the legal team involved in this lawsuit indicate that menthol when burned has dangerous properties. That would make mentholated cigarettes more unhealthy than regular cigarettes. Yet the public perception, according to the tobacco industry's own research, is that adding menthol makes cigarettes less harmful because of the cooling sensation of menthol in the throat and its association with beneficial products like menthol cough drops. Furthermore, the Food & Drug Administration, which already regulates the use of menthol as an additive in food and drugs, has never been allowed to regulate menthol in cigarettes.

"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. "That is why we have decided to take this issue to federal court."

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"If black folks like computers that are red, black and green, that has no harm, everybody is happy, and you make money. But when you move to things that are harmful, you draw the line."
Charyn Sutton, Onyx Group, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 26, 1998.

ACTION ALERT
October 30, 1998

Smoking Control Advocacy Resource Center (SCARC)

Issue: Civil Rights Suit Filed Against Tobacco Industry For Targeting African Americans With Menthol Brands

Summary:
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 in the Federal District Court in Philadelphia. The suit, Rev. Jesse Brown et. al. v. Philip Morris et. al., charges that tobacco companies targeted African American communities in their marketing of mentholated products and asserts that menthol may be a factor in the disproportionate smoking-related death and disease in the African American community. Information about the added dangers of menthol in cigarettes has appeared in the tobacco industry’s own documents released as a result of Minnesota’s Medicaid trial. The lawsuit, which is based on the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1870 and the 13th and 14th Amendments, is believed to be the first suit filed against the tobacco industry on behalf of African Americans.

The lawsuit seeks the following provisions:
A permanent injunction that would require tobacco companies to immediately stop the manufacture, promotion and sale of mentholated tobacco products;

The public disclosure of tobacco industry research on the health effects of menthol in tobacco products;

The establishment of a public education program on the health risks of menthol;

The establishment of cessation programs for African Americans who use mentholated tobacco products.
At a press conference on October 21, Rev. Jesse Brown, a national leader in tobacco control, said that NAAAPI and the Uptown Coalition filed the lawsuit to force tobacco companies to publicly disclose their research on menthol, to educate the public on the health effects of menthol in cigarettes, to show the African

American community the duplicity of tobacco industry behavior, and to encourage government, foundations and health institutions to focus more attention on menthol research. In a NAAAPI news release, Rev. Brown said, "We believe that the tobacco companies have deliberately targeted the African American community with a particularly defective and deadly form of cigarettes – menthol." William R. Adams, Jr. Esq., co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said at the press conference, "If you are selling a defective product targeting the black consumer community, we think it is a prima facie violation of their civil rights."

The tobacco industry has a well-documented history of targeting African American smokers with advertising and specially designed products. In the 1980s, R.J. Reynolds developed the Uptown menthol cigarette specifically for African American smokers with plans to test market the product in Philadelphia. Reynolds’ then-vice president of strategic marketing Lynn Beasley said of the product, "We expect Uptown to appeal most strongly to black smokers." The advertising campaign, scheduled to be introduced during Black History Month in February of 1990, was to depict African Americans in urban environments and was to run primarily in African American publications. Reynolds abandoned plans to test market Uptown in Philadelphia, and ultimately pulled the product completely off the market after facing enormous pressure from the community. The Coalition Against Uptown Cigarettes, a broad coalition that included prominent African American groups, local religious leaders and voluntary organizations, led this effort.

In another example of the tobacco industry targeting black smokers, the Star Tobacco Corporation began manufacturing the X brand of mentholated cigarettes in Boston in early 1995. Star Tobacco contracted Duffy Distributors to market and distribute the brand. X cigarettes were packaged in the Afrocentric colors red, green and black, and prominently featured the X logo, a symbol associated with African American leader Malcolm X. The companies denied that X was targeted specifically to African American smokers, but the product was withdrawn from the market after Star Tobacco and Duffy Distributors received protests from African American groups around the country.

More recently, R.J. Reynolds unveiled a mentholated Camel brand in January 1997, which Reynolds hoped would be as successful among black smokers as its regular Camel brand had been with white smokers, especially adolescents. The Camel Menthol ad campaign clearly targeted African Americans. R.J. Reynolds didn’t buy ads for its regular Camel brand in African American publications like Ebony, Jet and Essence, but it did buy ads in those magazines, and other African American media, when they introduced Camel Menthol. In February 1997, NAAAPI and the Uptown Coalition helped launch the national "Say No To Menthol Joe Community Crusade" to fight the marketing of Camel Menthol in black communities.

In addition to massive advertising targeting African Americans, the tobacco industry has historically worked to build loyalty in the minority communities they targeted by providing employment opportunities for minorities; providing substantial advertising revenue in minority-owned publications; and by funding minority-run agencies, organizations, political and civic campaigns and cultural events. By filing the lawsuit, NAAAPI and the Uptown Coalition seek to raise public awareness of the tobacco industry’s duplicitous behavior in dealing with the African American community.

On April 27, 1998, the Surgeon General’s office issued Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups, a study of tobacco use among African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics. A review of smoking trends and tobacco industry practices in these communities led to the conclusion that: "The tobacco industry’s targeted advertising and promotion of tobacco products among members of these four U.S. racial/ethnic groups may undermine prevention and control efforts and thus lead to serious health consequences" (see " Surgeon General Releases Report Showing Rise In Tobacco Use Among US Minority Teens,". The Surgeon General’s Report also notes that smokers of mentholated cigarettes inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs longer because of the cooling sensation that menthol provides. Some researchers believe that this effect explains why African American smokers have higher smoking-related mortality rates than white smokers, despite smoking 35 percent fewer cigarettes per day than whites.

Useful Facts
Over 75 percent of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes as compared to 23 percent of white smokers. (Sources: American Cancer Society; American Lung Association)

African American men have a lung cancer death rate 50 percent higher than whites. (Source: Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups, Surgeon General’s Report, 1998)

Over 80 percent of African American men who smoke and have contracted lung cancer die from the disease, compared with 54 percent of their white counterparts. (Source: Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups, Surgeon General’s Report, 1998)

Smoking rates among African American high school students rose 80 percent from 1991 to 1997. The smoking rate for African American males doubled in that time from 14.1 percent to 28.2 percent. (Source: American Lung Association fact sheet, September 1998)

The cigarettes smoked most often by African American adolescents are Newport (61.3 percent), Kool (10.9 percent) and Salem (9.7 percent) – all mentholated brands. (Source: Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups, Surgeon General’s Report, 1998)

African American communities have 2.6 times as many billboards advertising cigarettes as white communities. (Source: Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups, Surgeon General’s Report, 1998)

Nearly 66 percent of cigarette advertisements in African American magazines are for menthol cigarettes, compared to 15.4 percent of those in general population magazines. (Source: Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups, Surgeon General’s Report, 1998)

Objectives:
To publicize the national civil-rights, class-action lawsuit filed against U.S. tobacco companies that manufacture menthol cigarettes.

To raise public awareness of the tobacco industry’s targeted marketing to minority groups and its deception about the health risks of mentholated tobacco products.
Suggested Actions

Advocates should spread the word about the civil rights lawsuit to organizations or individuals who may be affected by the suit. African Americans who smoke or smoked menthol cigarettes since 1954 are asked to call the Onyx Group toll free at 1-888-746-7649. Although new plaintiffs will not be added until after the case is certified, the lawyers want to build the strongest possible case on the effects of smoking menthol, and hearing from menthol smokers will help that process. The telephone line takes messages only and is available 24 hours a day. Callers are asked to leave their name, smoking status (current or former), brand of cigarettes (current or former) and day and evening telephone numbers where they can be contacted for interviews.

The Onyx Group has posted articles and information about the lawsuit on their website. The full text of the complaint will be posted online soon. Check back often as the site is updated with new information as it becomes available.

This is an excellent opportunity to create new alliances and broaden the tobacco control movement by seeking out African American organizations that may not normally focus their efforts on tobacco control. Advocates should share news of the lawsuit with these groups and show them how the industry targets African American smokers. The Coalition Against Uptown Cigarettes is an excellent example of how a broad network of activists, including some not focused solely on tobacco issues, defeated the tobacco industry.

Advocates working on cessation issues can seek to develop programs tailored to the African American community. As new information on the dangers of smoking mentholated cigarettes is uncovered, more blacks may seek to quit smoking. Black doctors and religious leaders could provide excellent opportunities for partnerships in developing tailored cessation programs.

Obtain a copy of the 1998 Surgeon General’s Report on tobacco use among minority groups. It is an excellent resource with a wealth of information and statistics on minority smoking. The executive summary and fact sheets on each minority group can be obtained from CDC’s website, www.cdc.gov/tobacco. The full report is available for $20 from the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402-9238; call (202) 512-1800.

For more in-depth information on the campaigns against the Uptown and X brand cigarettes, and a guide to using media advocacy in minority communities, see the Advocacy Institute’s "Lessons From The Frontlines: Tobacco Control Media Advocacy In Communities Of Color," by Makani Themba. The advisory is part of the Blowing Away the Smoke series of advanced media advocacy guides for tobacco control advocates. For a copy of the entire series, send $5 to the Advocacy Institute, attn: Blowing Away the Smoke, 1707 L St., NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC, 20036. SCARCNet members may access the advisories online free of charge.

Promote FDA regulation of tobacco products and their contents, including menthol. The FDA currently has the authority to regulate menthol in products such as cold medicine, but not in tobacco products.

Contact local reporters to discuss ways to expose the targeting of racial/ethnic minorities by the tobacco industry. Suggest tobacco control contacts for reporters in your area’s African American community.

Advocates should continue to push for the release of all of the tobacco industry’s internal documents. The industry still has documents concealed under attorney-client privilege. The documents already released have provided a tremendous amount of information on tobacco industry behavior, including information on how it manufactured and marketed its products to minority communities and its strategic plans to counter tobacco control efforts.

*Please feel free to copy this Alert. There is no need to ask permission.

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Produced by: Smoking Control Advocacy Resource Center (SCARC)
Address: Advocacy Institute
1707 L Street, NW, Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 659-8475
Fax: (202) 659-8484



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