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The troubling history of Big Tobacco’s cozy ties with black leaders

It's hardly surprising that a tobacco company would donate more money to Republican politicians than to Democrats, who are generally more amenable than GOPers to taxes and regulation. North Carolina's Lorillard Tobacco, for instance, gave nearly four times as much cash to Republican candidates during the 2014 congressional election cycle. But the company made a striking exception for one particular subset of Democrats: African Americans.

Our analysis of records from the Center for Responsive Politics revealed that half of all black members of Congress received financial support from Lorillard, as opposed to just one in 38 nonblack Democrats. To put it another way, black lawmakers—all but one of whom are Democrats—were 19 times as likely as nonblack Democrats to get a donation.

It's not hard to see why Lorillard might employ this strategy. Federal officials are now considering whether to add menthol, the minty, throat-numbing additive—to the list of flavorings Congress banned from cigarettes in 2009 for public health reasons. Lorillard's Newport is the nation's top-selling menthol brand, accounting for billions in annual sales. And who most favors menthols? Black smokers, by a wide margin.

Our Take

The tobacco industry uses menthol to appeal to youth and blacks. Banning menthol cigarettes will save young lives and it will save black lives. And that’s something we should all be able to get behind.

Managing Director, Community and Youth Engagement