Tobacco is not an equal opportunity killer. Black Americans and vulnerable populations targeted by the tobacco industry – including LGBTQ individuals, women, youth, members of the military and those with mental health conditions – have long faced a disproportionate burden from tobacco-related diseases and death.
Big Tobacco’s exploitation of the Black community has a long and documented history. The tobacco industry strategically and aggressively targeted the Black community for decades, especially with menthol cigarettes. These tactics include placing more advertising in predominantly Black neighborhoods and in publications that are popular with Black audiences, as well as appropriating culture in marketing, including sponsoring events such as jazz and hip-hop festivals.
The death and disease that tobacco products – their use still the country’s leading cause of death and preventable disease – have inflicted on minority communities are devastating. And the dangers of tobacco use are especially dire now, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has named smoking a risk factor for developing severe illness from COVID-19, which is also taking a heavier toll on communities of color.
Truth Initiative has long recognized that tobacco is a social justice issue and that racism is a public health issue. We have focused efforts on exposing industry tactics, calling for a menthol ban, and creating smoke-free communities.