(Mahin: Flickr)
(Mahin: Flickr)

Tobacco companies may have corporate campaigns against under-age smoking, but how does that play out on the ground — especially in low-income or minority communities? California Watch reports today on state-funded research which found that tobacco marketing targets low-income and African American teens. As the percentage of African American students at a California high school went up, so did Newport brand promotions and menthol-related advertising at nearby stores, according to the report.

While the study reviewed all cigarette advertising, it focused specifically on Newport and Marlboro which researchers say are two of the most popular brands with under-age smokers.

From California Watch:

“There is a systematic targeting (of disadvantaged communities) by the tobacco industry, which is an extraordinary public health problem,” said Lisa Henriksen of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who presented the research at a legislative briefing in Sacramento last week. “The addition of menthol to cigarettes makes it easier to smoke and more difficult to quit.”

The University of Michigan’s Robert Lipton also presented research at the briefing showing that in the Los Angeles area, communities that tended to be dense, poor and minority had greater rates of underage tobacco sales.

Henriksen’s ongoing study of menthol cigarette marketing has found that African American students were better able to recognize a Newport ad than [were] teens of other races. Regardless of race, however, nonsmoking students who were familiar with the Newport ad were 49 percent more likely to start using tobacco than nonsmoking students who weren’t.

California Watch reports that another analysis done of California’s schools by Henriksen found:

  • 24% of school campuses were within 600 feet of a store that sold tobacco
  • 38% of schools were within 1000 feet of a place where cigarettes were sold

Stores near California high schools featured an average of 25 cigarette ads, Henriksen said at the briefing.

Eliminating disparities and minimizing youth exposure to tobacco advertising are among the goals [PDF] of the state Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee, which advises the California Tobacco Control Program, said Dr. Michael Ong, an assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA who chairs the committee.

Ong said locating tobacco retailers near schools is not good public health policy. “In terms of trying to reduce harms from tobacco use in California, we do need to try to further restrict easy access to tobacco, particularly from our youth,” he said.

A spokesman for Philip Morris’ parent company, Altria Group, which manufactures Marlboro cigarettes, said in a statement that the company is “committed to responsibly marketing its cigarettes to adult smokers.”

“Kids should not smoke any cigarettes, menthol or non-menthol,” Altria spokesman David Sutton wrote in an e-mail. “Based on our review of the limited literature and data available, menthol cigarettes do not appear to have a unique role in smoking initiation.”

Lorillard, the makers of Newport cigarettes, did not respond to a request for comment.

Last week’s briefing on tobacco advertising and menthol cigarettes comes at a time when policy issues are being considered at the national and state level.

The Food and Drug Administration is considering a ban on menthol additives to cigarettes. In June, California voters will consider Proposition 29, a ballot initiative that would impose a $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes. A portion would go to research on tobacco, and the state Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee has endorsed the bill.

Tobacco Brands Target Black Teens, Study Finds 25 April,2012Lisa Aliferis

  • Charles Amico

    This is good info. Thanks! It helps us make comments on accountability for these issues. It is my opinion that the easy answer is always taxing cigarettes. I think more drastic measures are required. The majority population is not Black. And we need to consider and take action based upon the fact that the cigarette companies are targeting kids still. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY ARE BLACK OR WHITE. IT IS PLAIN WRONG AND THERE NEEDS TO BE CONSEQUENCES TO THE CIGARETTE COMPANIES.


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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