Are black people more likely to be tobacco addicts?

BLACK MARKET: Tobacco companies have long targeted African Americans

New research claims that there is a direct link between skin colour and cigarette dependence

A new American study claims that higher concentrations of melanin may be placing smokers with darker skins at increased risk of nicotine dependence, than lighter skinned people.

Gary King professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University in Pennsylvania, claims that research prove that nicotine has a biochemical affinity for melanin.

Speaking to The Voice, Professor King said that he started his study two years ago due to the alarming rates of mortality and smoke related illnesses within the black community

“African Americans have a higher mortality and morbidity health related problems with tobacco than that of their white counterparts who smoke. I decided to conduct some research to find out why’ said the scientist. Said King.

“The use rate for African Americans is much lower than white Americans, but smoke related illnesses are much more prevalent because African Americans find it much more difficult to quit.

“There are different theories to explain this, some say it is behavioural, others link it to sociological problems. However I am less inclined to believe these theories as scientific research suggests that the melanin place a significant part.”

It is no secret that for well over three decades, tobacco manufacturers has specifically targeted the African American community with advertising in black magazines, billboards and buses in black communities, sponsorship of athletic events, outdoor cultural events, and by offering academic scholarships.

With over 70 percent of African Americans smokers smoking menthol cigarettes, which incidentally are as harmful as any other type of cigarette, the tobacco companies started to exploit the advertising and packaging to draw in a bigger African American audience.

In 1990 North Carolina based R.J Reynolds, the second largest cigarettes online buyin the US, planned to market a new brand of menthol cigarettes for the African American community. Branded Uptown, the marketing plan called for ads denoting glamour fashion and high life. The packaging even planned that the cigarettes would be placed filter down as African American smokers opened their cigarette packets from the bottom.

The African American community was outraged, claiming that the name was chosen, not because it was classy, but more for the connotations to New York City’s Harlem community. The public backlash forced the company to cancel the product

In 1995 a cigarette distributor in Massachusetts packaged a new brand of Menthol cigarettes aimed primarily for the African American market. Menthol X was packaged in red, black and green and emblazoned with a giant X on the front.

Again aggressively targeting the African Caribbean community these new cigarettes caused a public uproar as the colours used were synonymous with African American struggle and liberation and the ‘X’ is heavily associated with black activist Malcolm X. The Massachusetts community forced the distributor to withdraw the new cigarette.

Professor King admits that there has been plenty of research into tobacco and ethnic groups dating back to the 1960s. So what are the implications of his research? Could his findings were used to help market and manipulate the sale of tobacco in the African American community?

“We would like people to be aware of the advances in science that would directly affect their community.” He said.

“These findings should be part of an ongoing discussion when people are making decisions about marketing tobacco to specific target groups.

Professor King believes that there is an addictive agent in melanin-containing tissue and the greater amount of skin pigmentation, the greater the risk from tobacco addiction.

So in other words the darker your skin the more likely it is that you will have an addiction, and the addiction process will be longer and more severe for people of African descent.

Tobacco use is the key contributor in the three major causes of death among African Americans – heart disease, cancer and stroke.

Lung Cancer rates are especially high in the African American community with black men 24 percent more likely than white men to be afflicted with the disease.

One of the major factors concerning African American smokers is that although they smoke fewer cigarettes per day than their white counterparts they are at higher risk from smoking related illnesses. One of the reasons as to why this is because seventy percent of African American smokers use menthol cigarettes which generally are harder to quit and easier to take up as it has a cool minty taste.

In 2005 former government prosecutor Sharon Eubanks and Rev. Anthony Evans, executive director of the Washington based National Black Church Initiative, led a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies who had been targeting the African Caribbean community for decades.

Rev Anthony Evans said: “For decades smoking has been marketed to us as glamorous and sexy it is neither. This targeting of ’African American communities by the tobacco companies has to stop.”

Professor King hopes the new research will make more black people aware of their added risk of addiction to tobacco and will not be used as an incentive by tobacco companies to continue their targeting of black communities both in America and across the globe.


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