When African Americans Light Up, It’s Usually a Newport

When I pumped gas as a 14-year-old youth, many of my customers were African-American nurses who worked down the road at  the Institute, a place where crazy people used to live until a few decades ago.  Often they would order cigarettes…and rarely did they want any other brand than Newports.   I remember visiting Brooklyn when I was even younger, and seeing billboards on neighborhood streets showing cool looking black people smoking Newports.  I read yesterday about the cigarette’s maker, Lorillard, and their epic battle against a giant threat: The FDA might ban menthol as it has other flavorings, which would kill the company’s biggest earner, the Newport brand.

It’s true.  Of the 21% of blacks who smoke, 80% smoke Newport menthols. Now Lorillard is grabbing up every domain name it can find to keep information about cigarette addiction out of the minds of potential customers.  Site names like Mentholkillsminorities.com and Mentholaddictsyouth.com.  The cigarette giant hasn’t created websites, rather they’ve just bought up to 50 variations on this theme in hopes of controlling the conversation.

So far there isn’t any agreement among scientists as to whether menthol is more addicting than regular cigarettes, and the company is pumping up another threat in press releases: if menthol is banned, an illegal black market for these flavored cigarettes would emerge. They’ve also lined up prominent black officials in various civil rights organizations to go on radio decrying the menthol ban.  Now health advocates are alarmed that Lorillard has been able to use these organizations for their own craven commercial purposes.