The tobacco industry is one of the most heavily-marketed industries in the U.S., spending a total of $8.489 billion dollars on marketing tactics in 2014 alone, according to the American Lung Association. That is more than $23 million dollars a day spent on advertising tobacco products to the public. The tobacco industry is successful in its marketing plans because it knows all about diversity and just how to exploit it.
BMJ Journals reports that stores in minority neighborhoods were up to ten times more likely to display tobacco advertisements inside and outside than a non-minority filled community. This is not a coincidence, it is blatant profiling. Tobacco companies’ strategies to target minorities like the LGBTQ community, African Americans, the homeless and those who struggle with mental health have created a social issue that needs to be discussed and put to its end.
Recently a campaign aired on the Video Music Awards that helped bring to light the issue that minorities face in regard to profiling from tobacco companies. Hip Hop artist Logic was featured in the campaign and explained how tobacco companies are a business of exploitation.
“It is essentially a big bully preying on the weak,” Logic said in the campaign.
Truth Orange reports that big tobacco companies even went as far as giving out free cigarettes to psychiatric facilities and that those with mental health or substance abuse issues account for 40 percent of all cigarettes smoked in the U.S.
“Over the years, big tobacco has targeted a number of vulnerable groups in order to push cigarettes,” reports Ryan Duffy, a correspondent for Truth Orange.
It is clear the tobacco industry is feasting off of minorities and vulnerable groups for profit.
Truth Initiative reports that there are ten times more tobacco advertisements in poorer and minority filled neighborhoods, specifically advertisements for cigarettes. They go on to report that 85 percent of African American smokers use menthol cigarettes, a rate nearly three times higher than other smokers. Many tobacco companies are even sponsors for cultural activities such as Black History Month, Cinco De Mayo, Mexican Rodeos and the Chinese New Year.
Jodi Prochaska, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford, conducted studies to conclude that tobacco industries promote cigarettes as an idea of self-medication and work to appeal to those with mental health issues. Tobacco companies have even funded research highlighting the “benefits” of smoking.
In 1955, project SCUM (subculture urban marketing) was founded by tobacco company R.J. Reynolds for the sole purpose of boosting cigarette sales by targeting vulnerable groups. Without getting their customers addicted, tobacco companies will not make even a fraction of what they make today.
It is clear that tobacco companies lack scientific integrity in their research and are putting billions of dollars into advertisements that cater to minorities and vulnerable groups. The issue of profiling has gone on far too long in the tobacco industry, and lack of conversation and media coverage about the topic is only making matters worse.
We all have an ability to make an impact by calling out the big tobacco industry for what they are, predators. It is obvious the tobacco industry shamelessly benefits from minorities and vulnerable groups that use cigarettes as a form of self-medication. In reality, tobacco products only make matters worse.
Samantha Moffett is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.