Critics of the tobacco industry long have accused cigarette makers of trying to hook black youths on smoking by marketing menthol brands intensively in African-American neighborhoods. And now a study led by Stanford University medical researchers backs up that contention.
The researchers focused on how Newport cigarettes, the leading menthol brand, have been marketed by Lorillard Inc. at 407 stores within walking distance of 91 California high schools.
They found that stores near schools with higher percentages of black students devoted more of their advertising to menthol brands. Specifically, the study found that the share of advertising devoted to menthol cigarettes rose 5.9 percent for every 10 percentage-point increase in the proportion of African-American students attending a school.
In addition, the researchers said, near schools with higher percentages of black students, there were more advertised price discounts and lower prices on Newport cigarettes. That is significant, the researchers said, because lower prices on cigarettes lead to more smoking.
In contrast, the Stanford researchers found no similar pattern of discounts on Marlboro cigarettes, the leading non-menthol brand, based on neighborhood or school demographics. Marlboro is made by an Altria Group unit, Philip Morris USA.
“The tobacco companies went out of their way to argue to the Food and Drug Administration that they don’t use racial targeting,” Lisa Henriksen, a Stanford research scientist who led the study, said in a university news release. “This evidence is not consistent with those claims.”
She criticized Lorillard for “predatory marketing” in heavily black neighborhoods. Lorillard did not immediately comment on the study.
Lorillard Inc. and R.J. Reynolds, which also sells menthol cigarettes, have filed suit to try to stop the FDA from receiving or relying on the recommendation of an advisory committee looking into whether menthol cigarettes should be banned.
As Reuters reports, however, the panel, which will meet on July 21 to review the final version of its report, is not expected to call for a ban.
Public health advocates who have pushed for a ban say that menthol flavoring, which masks the harsh taste of cigarettes, attracts young smokers. They also say that black smokers, who more commonly buy menthol cigarettes, have the highest rates of smoking-related disease.