Home U.S With menthol cigarettes, Big Tobacco targets Black lives. Don't allow profiting from...

With menthol cigarettes, Big Tobacco targets Black lives. Don't allow profiting from death.


Dr. Nia Heard-Garris

“Smoking Winstons is for white boys,” said my mother-in-law, Mom Wendy, as she recounted how she started smoking. Her mom was a smoker before there were Surgeon General warnings on cigarette packaging. Public awareness of the harms of smoking was nonexistent. For Mom Wendy, it began at age 12, when her mom asked her to light a cigarette for her on the stove. She would light it for her mom and take a puff or two.

She then started to hang out with her neighbors, who had seven kids — all older Black boys, who smoked. They would joke that smoking “Winstons” (cigarettes without menthol) was for white boys. They were saying what they knew to be true: Black people typically smoked menthol cigarettes and white people did not. Even as kids then they could see differences in cigarette use by race.

We know now that this was no coincidence, but rather the results of Big Tobacco’s efforts to target Black communities and hook Black children on their deadly and addictive menthol products.

Nia Heard-Garris and Wendy Garris in April 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Black neighborhoods have a disproportionate number of tobacco retailers with pervasive tobacco marketing, and in particular, more marketing of menthol products. The industry’s own documents reveal its history of launching these advertising campaigns. Even now, I can vividly recall the numerous billboards for cigarettes in my neighborhood. I could recreate the packaging colors, logos or mascots for each of the brands I’d see constantly, and I have never smoked a cigarette.


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