November 21, 2002
Tobacco firms courted rights groups
UCSF researchers show attempt to snare black, Latino smokers
by Sabin Russell
cigarette companies cultivated financial ties with most major
civil rights groups in a widespread campaign to attract more
black smokers and neutralize opposition to anti-smoking measures,
according to tobacco industry documents unearthed by UCSF
researchers' report, to be published in the December issue
of the journal Tobacco Control, was presented during the National
Conference on Tobacco or Health meeting this week in San Francisco.
prompted black leaders attending the gathering to call for
a campaign to reject financial support from the tobacco industry,
however worthy the cause. "It's time to take the pledge
to leave tobacco money alone," said the Rev. Jesse Brown
Jr. of the National Association of African Americans for Positive
researchers Valerie Yerger and Ruth Malone examined more than
700 documents released by cigarette companies as part of a
1998 settlement between various states attorneys general and
the tobacco industry. Many of the documents dated from the
apparent generosity, inclusion and friendship proffered by
the industry extract a price from groups in the health of
their members," the authors wrote.
Reynolds spokesman David Howard, who said he had not seen
the paper and could not comment on its findings, said many
companies contribute to organizations strategically.
do that so we have an opportunity to have our side heard,"
Howard told the Associated Press.
UCSF researchers focused solely on documents related to tobacco
industry ties to African American groups. Other industry representatives
could not be reached for comment on the report.
the organizations that received tobacco industry funding,
according to the UCSF study, are the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League and
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
was a very embarrassing experience for me," said Yerger,
who works at UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and
Education. "I saw organizations I was a member of. I
saw organizations my family was a part of."
the documents is a 1984 memo from tobacco giant Brown &
Williamson, describing its "Fair Share" agreement
with the NAACP, which promised to expand economic opportunities
for minority groups. "Clearly, the sole reason for B&W's
interest in the black and Hispanic communities is the actual
and potential sales of B&W products within these communities
and the profitability of these sales. . . . This relatively
small and often tightly knit (minority) community can work
to B&W's marketing advantage, if exploited properly,"
the marketing memo states.
1991 memo from RJ Reynolds describes a meeting with the Michigan
Black Legislative Caucus, where the company was asked to contribute
to a black owned hospital. "(We) were assured that our
support would be welcomed, regardless of the probable criticism
of anti-smoking activists. We were further assured that (the
caucus) would in turn support us," the memo states.
were buying black leadership," said Charyn Sutton, president
of the Onyx Group, a Philadelphia consulting firm that works
with black churches in anti-tobacco efforts. "This money
has come with a terrible cost," she added. "We've
lost an incredible number of our leaders to tobacco-related
estimated 45,000 African Americans die each year from diseases
related to smoking, a greater burden of preventable disease
compared to other ethnic groups. Smoking kills a total of
418,000 Americans a year, according to the federal Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
formerly secret tobacco industry documents do not specify
how much money was paid to various organizations, but the
researchers conservatively estimate the figure at $25 million
said she understands the temptation that hard-pressed black
organizations face when offered tobacco industry sponsorship.
At one time, she was attempting to raise $500,000 for a Big
Brother program in Philadelphia. She was a quarter million
dollars short. A tobacco company representative offered to
provide the difference, but after consulting with colleagues,
she turned it down.
companies themselves point with pride to their charitable
giving. Philip Morris Companies Inc. describes on its Web
site a tradition of philanthropy since 1956.