Study: Menthol Cigarette Ads Targeted Directly at Black Youth

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

A study at Stanford University has concluded that tobacco companies engaged in a series of targeted marketing strategies aimed at convincing black youth to use their products.  The study finds that prices for menthol cigarettes were cut and ads were boosted near California high schools that had lots of black students.

The marketing strategy is referred to, in the study, as “predatory,” The authors also say that the advertising is  “geared to luring young African Americans into becoming smokers.”

“The tobacco companies went out of their way to argue to the Food & Drug Administration that they don’t use racial targeting. The evidence is not consistent with those claims,” said Lisa Henriksen, the lead author of the study.

To conduct the study, researchers randomly selected convenience stores within walking distance of 91 different schools.  They then studied how cigarettes were marketed in those stores.  They found that for every 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of black students in the school, the amount of marketing advertising grew by 5.9 percent.

Additionally, they found that the price for a pack of the leading brand of menthol cigarette (Newports), fell by 12 cents for every 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of black students at the school.  A non-menthol brand, Marlboro, was found to have no correlation with racial demographics.

Most of us don’t need scientists at Stanford University to tell us about the well-documented dangers of smoking.  We also don’t need scientists to explain how our communities are continuously decimated by poisonous marketing campaigns, with gun and liquor stores on every corner, in addition to the heavy marketing of brands like “Drank,” designed to replicate the dangerous purple syrup that young people consume in the south.

This study does a wonderful job of highlighting the fact that corporate America’s commitment to capitalism often leads to decisions that are made without consideration of the consequences for black children in America.  Corporations aren’t going to stop trying to maximize profits, and it is only through the efforts of conscientious citizens and accountable government regulation that this kind of behavior can be monitored and modified.

We must capture the minds of our children at an early age, before they are psychologically kidnapped by the tornado of destruction that is fed to us by the images we see on a daily basis.  This is one reason why we pushed for a boycott of Lil Wayne’s music, which openly advocates for the rape and abuse of women, among other self-destructive activities.  The truth is that whether we are referring to hip hop artists telling us to shoot one another and beat women or drug/alcohol companies working to get us hooked and helpless before puberty, we must stand together to stop the flow of such psychological slavery into our neighbhorhoods.


Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.


  • Justsoblack

    Black Americans are chattle for the American economy.  We are the first to be reachered on any product that has a billion dollar market.
    Cigaretts are sold all over the world, so what race is dying faster then black people?

    No one complains about “RACISM”