Hip-Hop Images Blamed for Seducing Minority Youth Into Smoking
ATLANTA The colorful images on the boxes of Kool cigarettes depict the urban nightlife. On one, a disc jockey scratches a record. On another, people are captured dancing mid-bounce. Other trendy cigarette brands feature a blend of menthol tobacco with flavors like berry, mocha, coconut or lime. The latest cigarette marketing efforts have caught the attention of health officials and anti-tobacco activists, who are accusing tobacco companies of using hip-hop images and attractive flavors to seduce minority youth into smoking. “What adult that you know prefers a tropical or berry-flavored cigarette?” asked Sherri Watson Hyde, executive director of the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network. “One wonders if we’re talking about a cigarette or Lifesavers or Now & Later.” Health officials gathered in August in Atlanta to voice “our opposition to the attempts of the tobacco industry to seduce our youth using the appeal of hip-hop culture,” says Dr. James Gavin III, president of Morehouse School of Medicine. Representatives of the American Legacy Foundation, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, the National Latino Council on Alcohol and Tobacco Prevention, and Morehouse called for cigarette makers to remove the products from stores, especially in minority communities. The new Kool Mixx, Kool Smooth Fusion and Camel Exotic Blends — all from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. — and Philip Morris’ Marlboro Menthol 72mm are being heavily marketed to youth in Black, Hispanic and other minority communities, the activists said. They accused tobacco companies of using flavored cigarettes to draw children who are not used to the taste of a regular cigarette. “It’s hard to believe that these sweet-tasting products are not targeted to youth,” Iowa attorney general Tom Miller said in a prepared statement. “That the tobacco companies can say otherwise with a straight face is downright appalling.” Kool ads have appeared in Black magazines such as Ebony, Essence and Vibe, which included in its April issue a CD-ROM that blended the Kool Mixx brand with hip-hop music. Kool’s marketing campaign is being fought in several states. Maryland, New York and Illinois have lawsuits pending against Brown & Williamson, which merged last month with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., for its Kool Mixx ad campaign. Chicago-area activists protested a Kool-sponsored DJ competition in May. Tobacco companies said in August they would not pull the cigarettes from store shelves because they have done nothing wrong. They say they remain in compliance with their 1998 settlement with state attorneys general, which prohibits the marketing of tobacco products to youth. The Kool ads are aimed at people ages 21 to 34, not children, and the average Kool brand smoker is White and 45 years old, says Reynolds spokesman Mark Smith. The brands are offered in stores across the country, not just certain communities or neighborhoods. “The urban experience is what these brands are aiming toward — the consumers of the products reflect that,” Smith said. “We’ve been doing the hip-hop stuff for six years. Most consumer goods companies are doing the same thing.” The problem is that children, especially teenagers, aspire to appear three to four years older than they actually are and pay attention to older people’s dress, lifestyle and behaviors, says Terry Pechanek, associate director of science for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health. Health officials have been working to reduce the number of child smokers because four out of every five smokers say they started before age 18. Smoking, the top cause of preventable death in the country, kills about 440,000 people a year, including 45,000 Blacks, through heart disease, stroke and cancers. “If our youth never started smoking, these numbers would dramatically decline,” says Dr. David Satcher, a former U.S. Surgeon General and the director of the National Center for Primary Care at Morehouse School of Medicine. — Associated Press
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