Targeted Tobacco Marketing And Letter From Birmingham Jail

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In Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. states that African American’s have been victims of unsolved bombings in their homes and churches. In this paper it will be discussed and analyzed how African American’s fall victim to the tobacco industry though the targeted marketing and promotion of smoking and menthol cigarettes causing determents to their health. In Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. shares that his reasons for being in Birmingham are due to injustices the African American community continues to face. Due to Birmingham’s nature of probably being the most segregated city in the world, Martin Luther King Jr. argues that they have been targets of racial discrimination and hate crimes. He sheds light on the issue of police brutality against African American’s who seek peace as well as the unjust treatment they face in court. Furthermore, African American’s in Birmingham have been unable to feel safe as they have been the victims of bombings in their churches and even their own homes. He believes these bombings go unsolved likely due to race. Even after constantly seeking to negotiate with city officials, no changes or steps towards change were made. (King Jr.) By Martin Luther King Jr. pointing out the issue of African American’s being victims, the question arises: are African American’s still subject to harm by the government or large industries due to underlying feelings of racism?

Currently smoking cigarettes is the number one cause of preventable disease and death and more than 480,000 die from smoking every year in the U.S (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). When looking at race/ethnicities of smokers, the highest rate went to non-Hispanic American Indians/Alaska Natives at 24%, and 14.9% went to non-Hispanic black smokers. When looking at the percentage of the race/ethnicities of smoker’s, black smokers do not even make the top 3 of races/ethnicities who smoke; however, they continually have the highest usage of menthol cigarettes in the US. When looking at the usage of non-menthol cigarettes, 20.1% went to Caucasians and only 6.1% used menthol cigarettes. The black community had close to triple that amount at 19.5% when looking at the use of menthol cigarettes among race/ethnicity, and only 3.8% using non-menthol cigarettes. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) While black people are not even amongst the highest percentage of smokers, they continuously have the highest percentage of the use of menthol cigarettes over any other race/ethnicity and it is something that should be questioned.

Smoking cigarettes with and without menthol provides a different experience for each user. Menthol cigarettes sooth the dry throat feeling and reduce the harshness as well, and while this may seem like a positive, these traits attract younger people as it makes the smoking experience more pleasurable. (National Jewish Health) When the smoking experience is more pleasurable if the partaker wishes to quit it can become an even more difficult task then usual. Using menthol within cigarettes acts as through receptors on sensory nerves, which ultimately makes the partaking individuals more nicotine dependant. The tobacco industry has marketed menthol cigarettes as safer and healthier due to its cooling properties and reduced throat irritability, however, studies have proved that otherwise. An FDA approved clinical trial on cessation treatments was carried out among 1500 US adult smokers. The results show that when menthol was associated to smoking it reduced the likelihood of the cessation of smoking. Furthermore, a meta-analysis of studies from approximately 150,000 smokers show that African American menthol smokers have 12% lower odds of smoking cessation compared to non-menthol smokers. (Food and Drug Administration) These findings allow us to question whether or not the tobacco industry is specifically targeting African American communities when it comes to advertising.

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When it comes to tobacco products, it seems as though African American’s have been specifically targeted by the tobacco industry. A study was conducted where African American smokers were given a mobile device for 2 weeks, and they were to respond to questions 4 times a day about their exposure to tobacco ads. In addition, they were to provide the number of times they smoked, if they made any purchases following to seeing any ads, and if their purchases were impulsive. The results of this study show that 33% of the individuals had reported seeing at least one ad every assessment, and out of the ads, 87% of them were for menthol incorporated tobacco products. The study concluded that when the individuals were exposed to more ads, they were more likely to purchase tobacco products and more likely to do so based on impulse. (Robinson, Muench and Brede)

Although these companies reject any form of targeted marketing a 1992 study shows that promotional strategies have been used to sell menthol and non-menthol tobacco to the African American communities making it look more desirable and attractive. The study shows that in San Francisco while 20% of billboards were for tobacco products, 33% of those billboards were placed in low-income black neighbourhoods and were pushing the use of menthol and non-menthol tobacco products. Furthermore, it was shown that black adolescences were more likely to be exposed to this advertising in magazines popular to black youth in comparison to white youth. These were magazines such as Ebony, Essence, and Jet which had 80% readership amongst black youth. (Lee, Cutler and Burns) In addition, more evidence of targetted marketing was found within St. Louis city. Compared to St.Louis County, St. Louis City is relatively poorer than the former and has a larger minority population as well. When looking at tobacco advertising billboards containing menthol ads and not, a study shows that tobacco billboards in the St. Louis city were 1 ½ times higher than the tobacco billboards in the county. (Luke, Esmundo and Bloom)

From the evidence stated it has been shown that targeted marketing has been used when advertising tobacco products to African American’s. In Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King Jr. believes that African American’s have been targets for misfoutuanate events and some even leading to death. As smoking is one of the leading causes in preventable death and disease, when companies market specifically towards a certain community it can be infered that it is due to underlying feelings and views of racism.

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Targeted Tobacco Marketing And Letter From Birmingham Jail. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
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