In July 2014, the Smithsonian announced that Altria Group, owner of Philip Morris and one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, had contributed $1 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

But a significantly greater impact that tobacco companies have had on African American history has been through the targeted marketing of menthols.

“Many experts,” Newsweek reported in 2014, “say the main reason for that is marketing.”

Tobacco companies spent $9.17 billion on marketing in 2012, according to data released by the FTC last year. And, historically, marketing campaigns for menthol cigarettes have targeted African American communities.

In a 2014 study, for example, researchers found that Newport print advertising in 2012 and 2013 “focused on themes of sociability and sexuality, and were placed in magazines targeting African-Americans and younger consumers.” The study, conducted by researchers at Truth Initiative and Schroeder Institute, looked at 205 direct mail, email, print, and online ads for menthol.  

The targeted marketing of menthols to African-American communities appears to be effective. In a 2013 study, researchers found that African American children between the ages of 11 and 15 were three times more likely to recognize Newport packaging than their peers, and significantly less likely to identify Marlboro packaging.

It’s not just marketing. In November 2015, Mother Jones published a thorough exploration the strategic partnering tobacco companies have made in African-American communities over the years and the possibility that those partnerships have prevented stronger rules on menthol products.  

The FDA has the authority to ban production and marketing of menthol cigarettes but hasn’t yet.

“The tobacco industry uses menthol to appeal to youth and blacks,” said Ritney Castine, Managing Director of Community and Youth Engagement at Truth Initiative.

“Banning menthol cigarettes will save young lives and it will save black lives.”