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HOME > PRESS > TOBACCO INDUSTRY CALLED BIG DONOT TO BLACK GROUPS

Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Tobacco industry called big donor to black groups

UC researchers find companies gave to 60 African-American organizations
By FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

Two University of California researchers say their review of tobacco industry documents shows the companies have tried to boost their presence in the black community by targeting groups such as the NAACP, giving money and cultivating beneficial relationships.

The research paper by UC San Francisco's Valerie Yerger and Ruth Malone is to be published in the December issue of the journal Tobacco Control. The pair combed through about 700 tobacco company documents released over the past few years, and concluded the companies were contributing money to groups to increase their political influence.

"It hasn't been a secret that the industry has been in the African- American community, what hasn't been known were the secret business reasons," Yerger said Tuesday in an interview.

The paper said the major tobacco companies -- R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Lorillard and Brown & Williamson -- gave money to more than 60 black organizations.

R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard, who said he had not seen the paper and could not comment on its findings, noted many companies contribute to organizations strategically.

"We do that so we have an

opportunity to have our side heard," Howard said.

But Yerger said the practice is especially acute within the black community.

"African Americans as a group are disproportionately burdened by tobacco-related diseases and death," she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blacks collectively have higher smoking rates than whites, and black male smokers have a 50 percent higher chance of developing lung cancer than white male smokers.

Each year, about 45,000 blacks in the United States die from a preventable, smoking-related disease.500,000 may die

If current trends continue, 1.6 million blacks now under 18 years old will become regular smokers and 500,000 will die of a smoking-related disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Representatives for the Oakland NAACP and Urban League could not be reached for comment, or declined to.

Woody Carter, executive director of Bay Area Black United Fund, said he is planning an African American Health Summit for early next year.


He said he would never take money from the tobacco industry. "We are trying to upgrade health awareness in our community, and taking money from R.J. Reynolds would undermine our responsibility ...."

Howard said his company doesn't target the black community more than others.

"If the ultimate question is, does R.J. Reynolds want adult African-American smokers to switch to an R.J. Reynolds brand, the answer is yes. We also want white adult smokers, Hispanic adult smokers, and female adult smokers to switch," he said. "There is virtually universal awareness of the risks associated with smoking. (African Americans) have the same ability and right as the rest of the population to evaluate and make informed decisions about whether they want to use tobacco, or any other product."

Yerger said she hopes African Americans will be more aware of the presence of tobacco companies in their communities, which she said has become an everyday part of life.

"As organizations are dependent on this money, they tend to become silent about the effects of tobacco on their community," she said. "We're really hoping we'll get some dialogue going to disclose the true cost to the African-American community that comes from these ties to the tobacco companies."

Rick Callender, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Philip Morris has sponsored events at the national level and that the national office distributes money to the branches. He said that money normally goes to specific programs.

Callender said the NAACP is aware of the strong presence of tobacco in the black community, and it has health programs that encourage people not to smoke.

"The NAACP's always going to speak up for what's right, regardless of who's funding the issue," Callender said. "Justice can't be bought."

In 1997, 32.1 percent of black males and 22.4 percent of black females said they were current smokers, according to surveys.More menthol

There also have been studies that show blacks inhale more because they prefer smoother menthol cigarettes. Three out of four blacks prefer menthol cigarettes compared to one out of four whites. "Menthol may facilitate absorption of harmful cigarette-smoke constituents," the Centers for Disease Control reports.

In response, the National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery was part of a successful campaign directed at R.J. Reynolds, which was targeting blacks with a menthol brand called Uptown.

In Boston, blacks complained about a new brand of cigarettes sold in a package of red, black and green -- the colors of African liberation groups -- with a large black "X" on front -- a not-so-subtle tribute to Malcolm X, the subject of a Spike Lee movie about the late and controversial black leader.

Staff writer Chauncey Bailey contributed to this story.



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