NAAAPI NEWS RELEASE
American Activists Seek End to Menthol Cigarettes in Civil
Rights Lawsuit Against Tobacco Companies
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
Sutton, Onyx Group, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 26, 1998.
Control Advocacy Resource Center (SCARC)
Civil Rights Suit Filed Against Tobacco Industry For Targeting
African Americans With Menthol Brands
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 industrys own documents released as a
result of Minnesotas 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.
lawsuit seeks the following provisions:
permanent injunction that would require tobacco companies
to immediately stop the manufacture, promotion and sale of
mentholated tobacco products;
public disclosure of tobacco industry research on the health
effects of menthol in tobacco products;
establishment of a public education program on the health
risks of menthol;
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
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."
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.
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.
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
didnt 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.
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 industrys
duplicitous behavior in dealing with the African American
April 27, 1998, the Surgeon Generals 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
industrys 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 Generals 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.
75 percent of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes
as compared to 23 percent of white smokers. (Sources: American
Cancer Society; American Lung Association)
American men have a lung cancer death rate 50 percent higher
than whites. (Source: Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic
Minority Groups, Surgeon Generals Report, 1998)
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 Generals Report,
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)
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 Generals
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 Generals
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 Generals
publicize the national civil-rights, class-action lawsuit
filed against U.S. tobacco companies that manufacture menthol
raise public awareness of the tobacco industrys targeted
marketing to minority groups and its deception about the health
risks of mentholated tobacco products.
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.
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.
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.
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.
a copy of the 1998 Surgeon Generals 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 CDCs 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.
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 Institutes
"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.
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.
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 areas
African American community.
should continue to push for the release of all of the tobacco
industrys 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.
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