Black Americans and Tobacco

The onset of slavery in America can be directly linked to the beginning of tobacco production in this country. Though many factors contributed to slavery in the New World, tobacco was the main reason that slavery first flourished as an industry.

By the mid-1600s the slave trade flourished with established routes connecting North America, Africa and the West Indies. Manufactured goods were traded for African Natives; the African Natives were taken to the West Indies to be broken in before being taken to mainland North America.i

Tobacco was consumed at first by smoking it in pipes made of wood, clay, stone, bone, corncob or metal. After the Civil War, cigars became a luxury to be afforded by the upper classes.ii
When slavery ended in America, former African slaves would grow small crops of tobacco for personal use; tobacco was used as a way of escaping one’s troubles and to ease hardships.

In 1912, cigarettes were well on their way to surpassing pipe smoking and cigars in popularity, due to the coming of the 1st world war and the women’s suffrage movement (more women were smoking as a gesture of growing independence).iii

Tobacco companies began advertising in Black newspapers and magazines in the 1940s, when typically they would profile prominent African Americans in their ads. To lure more African Americans to smoke, the tobacco industry would combine images with remarkable claims in their advertising. In one Lucky Strike ad, gold medal Olympian Jesse Owens states, “I smoke Luckies. So do Mrs. Owens and my eldest daughter. To all of us, Luckies taste better.”iv

In the 1930s, menthol brands were introduced, and by the 1960 it was clear to tobacco companies that menthol brand popularity was due to Black Americans consumption of menthol cigarettes.
By the 1970’s tobacco companies were supporting African American festivals, concerts and art exhibits, and underwriting major national tours. Tobacco messages are highly successful in the Black community because they are varied and seductive. Tobacco companies sell a fantasy.

Leading Cause of Death
Each year, more African Americans die from diseases caused by smoking than from all murders, AIDS, drugs, alcohol abuse, and car crashes put together.v

Most smokers know that it is important for them to quit for their own health, but are not aware of the damage done to others who inhale smoke from their cigarettes. It can take as long as two weeks for the nicotine in cigarettes online buy to clear out from a room where people have been smoking. It’s very difficult for guests and others to speak up in a smoker’s house, due to power dynamics and not wanting to hurt the smoker’s feelings.
Parents, friends and other family members who smoke, around children increase the child’s risk of the following conditions;

  • Asthma
  • Colds
  • Ear infections
  • Allergies and bronchitis

Asthma affects more African American children than any other disease.

What can be done?
Know your personal and cultural history. Tobacco production has exploited African American people. You can also plan to attend the training program, Follow the Signs II to learn more about the impact of Big Tobacco in Black communities and what you can do about it. This training is designed for Denver area youth and community leaders. If you use tobacco stop! Also support others who desire to stop using tobacco because the struggle isn’t theirs, it’s ours.


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