Skip to main content
Research Article Research Article

Black D.C. neighborhoods have greater marketing for flavored tobacco products, including cigars

Tobacco stores in Washington, D.C. neighborhoods with higher percentages of Black residents had more marketing for flavored tobacco products– especially for flavored cigars – compared to neighborhoods with lower percentages of Black residents, according to research by the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in collaboration with Truth Initiative researchers. The study, published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, finds that marketing for non-flavored tobacco products was evenly distributed across D.C. neighborhoods.

The findings build on previously published research that found young people living in areas with lower incomes, higher proportions of racial and ethnic minorities, and higher smoking rates had more than seven times higher odds of being exposed to flavored tobacco marketing and nearly triple the odds of seeing any tobacco marketing compared to those living outside such communities. The targeted marketing of flavored tobacco products like flavored cigars presents another way tobacco is a social justice issue.

Beyond menthol cigarettes

Researchers visited 96 D.C. tobacco retailers that young adults reported frequenting during their routine activities, and photographed tobacco ads and displays found both inside and outside the store. They found greater flavored tobacco product marketing overall in neighborhoods with higher percentages of Black residents, and a higher concentration of flavored cigar ads in Wards 7 and 8, corresponding to the area with the highest proportion of Black residents. In neighborhoods with more Hispanic residents, researchers found less flavored cigar marketing but greater flavored smokeless tobacco marketing.

Flavors – including menthol - play an important role in attracting youth and young adults to tobacco products because they are easier to start and more difficult to quit. Flavored tobacco products are broadly appealing to young people: more than four out of five young adults ages 18 to 24 who have ever used tobacco reported that their first product was flavored.

The tobacco industry has a long history of targeting tobacco marketing in communities with high concentrations of Black and other minority residents and low-socioeconomic individuals. 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.

“Our results suggest that beyond menthol cigarettes, flavored products overall, and specifically cigars, may also be a social justice issue for Black communities,” the authors write.

Regulating flavored tobacco products key to reducing health disparities

Since data were collected for this study, national and state legislation around flavored tobacco products has been passed. The FDA announced in April 2021 that within the year it would begin the process for rulemaking to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars. And in June of the same year, D.C. passed a bill restricting the sale of flavored tobacco including menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars and e-cigarettes. “It would be noteworthy to see how marketing and use patterns change with the passage of this regulation,” the authors write of the D.C. legislation, suggesting that their study could be used as baseline to assess future marketing changes.

The study authors also note that federal action to restrict sale of flavored cigarettes and cigars “could have beneficial disparity-reducing effects in Black communities that are experiencing inequitable targeted marketing of [flavored tobacco products] and a disproportionate burden of tobacco-related morbidity and mortality.”

The study highlights yet another way that Black residents are disproportionately targeted by the tobacco industry. Truth Initiative has long supported addressing the health impact and inequities of tobacco use and stopping Big Tobacco’s ongoing race-based marketing programs.