Friday, 6 November 2015

"We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and stupid."

“We don’t smoke that s***. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and stupid.” 
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company Executive

"Smoking is a plague on all Americans, but it hits African-Americans especially hard. The tobacco companies target African-Americans with the intensity of fanatical hunters on the trail of very special game."
New York Times, 1993

"To say that the black community has been overrun with tobacco advertising is an understatement." (via)

At the end of World War II, tobacco companies decided to expand to so-called "new" markets in order to keep growing, discovered black Americans and started targeting them in their campaigns. After WWII, there was more "minor advertising" in weekly African American newspapers.

The sudden interest developed because of post-war changes: urban migration and increasing incomes of black Americans in the 1940s. Between 1920 and 1943, their annual income increased threefold, i.e., from $3 billion to more than $10 billion ... an income that made black Americans attractive for the tobacco industry.

Advertising and marketing magazines called the "emerging Negro market" profitable and published a great many articles. One of them, published in 1944, was titled "The American Negro-An 'Export' Market at Home". And the plan worked out: From 1920 to 1943, the amount of money black Americans spent on tobacco products increased six-fold.

Another development that helped the tobacco industry was that during the 1940s, glossy monthly magazines targeting African Americans were introduced (e.g. Negro Digest, Ebony, and Negro Achievements). They were more attractive to advertisers than the pre-war African American daily newspapers as they had glossy pages and a much larger national distribution. In addition, advertisers could feature black models "away from the eyes of white consumers" (via Stanford School of Medicine). They were, however, not the only medium advertisers used. Inducements to smoke were present on billboards, buses, underground trains; sports and cultural events were sponsored. A disproportionate amount of tobacco companies' promotional budget was spent on attracting black smokers (via).

Winston, owned by Imperial Tobacco Company and Japan Tobacco and originally introduced by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in 1954, is one of the top selling cigarette brands. In fact, it became the number one cigarette sold worlwide by 1966 - a position it held until 1972 (via). It was not the only brand that discovered black Americans. In 1995, Menthol X was introduced (and was soon pulled off the shelves after protests), in 1997, R. J. Reynolds introduced a mentholed version of Camel denying that the company was targeting black consumers (and had to withdraw after protests) - just to name a few.
“Marlboro would probably have a very difficult time getting anywhere in the young black market. The odds against it there are heavy. Young blacks have found their thing, and it's menthol in general and Kool in particular.” Philip Morris

"Since younger adult Blacks overwhelmingly prefer menthol cigarettes, continued emphasis on Salem within the Black market is recommended. Salem is already positioned against younger adults. With emphasis on the younger adult Black market, Salem may be able to provide an alternative to Newport* and capitalize on Kool’s decline."
R. J. Reynolds

*Newport is a brand of menthol cigarettes owned by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, introduced in 1957. According to a 2005 survey, about 50% of all cigarette sales to black Americans were Newport cigarettes (via).

Potential black consumers were discovered after WWII and still seem to be defined as "the" target group. According to studies carried out in the 1980s, there are twice as many billboards in black neighbourhoods of St. Louis as white, about 60% of them advertising cigarettes and alcohol. In Philadelphia, out of 73 billboards along 19 blocks in a black neighbourhood, 60 advertised cigarettes or alcohol; in Baltimore 70% of the 2.015 billboards. Three fourth of the billboards were found in predominantly poor black neighbourhoods. Marketing to win the "lungs of Blacks . . . [by] playing on the image of success, upward mobility, stokes fantasies of wealth and power. . . . They design socially conscious ads in Black publications that tout Black leaders and celebrities, praise Black historical figures, scientists, artists and events and promote their sponsorship of scholarship, business and equal opportunity promotional programs for Blacks. . . ." (via). And things have not changed. According to a 2013 study of tobacco retail outlets in St. Louis, for instance, there is more tobacco advertising (including more menthol advertising) in areas with a higher rate of black American residents. A study carried out in California shows: The more black high school students in a neighbourhood, the more menthol advertising. When it comes to menthol cigarette brands, disparities in advertising are particularly evident (via).

Related posting: You've come a long way, baby (Philip Morris targeting women)

Winston images via Stanford School of Medicine, inspired by Flashbak; other images via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via and via


  1. What a gallery!!! Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Brilliant! Thanks!

  3. Thank you so(!) much for your wonderful feedback, Derek, Wim, Karen, and Macy!

  4. Cigarettes...just as good for Blacks as e.g., head lice!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.