Black Youth Targeted In Menthol Cigarette Marketing

Neighborhoods in California with a high population of African-American students are being targeted by tobacco companies, according to a Stanford University study.

Researchers from Stanford School of Medicine analyzed data collected in 2006 that compared pricing and advertisements for Lorillard’s Newport menthol cigarettes, the top menthol brand, as well as that of Marlboro, the top non-menthol brand.

Data from 407 stores that were within walking distance of 91 California schools were collected in the 2006 survey, according to a recent Reuters report.

Results from the analysis of the survey found that as the population of African-American students rose in a neighborhood, so did the advertising efforts of the Newport tobacco company. In addition, the prices were likely lower as well.

The study did not find similar trends for Marlboro, which is made by Altria Group Inc unit Philip Morris USA.

Head researcher Lisa Henriksen, PhD, senior research scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center says that the study “shows a predatory marketing pattern geared to luring young African Americans into becoming smokers.”

Research found that the preference for menthol cigarettes among teenage smokers increased to 48.3 percent in 2008 from 43.4 percent in 2004. Furthermore, menthol cigarettes were found to be more popular with African-American smokers between 12 and 17 years of age when compared to Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites of similar ages.

According to the study, for every 10-percentage-point increase in the number of African-American students at a school, an increase by 5.6 percentage points occurred with advertisements for menthol cigarettes. The odds that a discount advertised for Newport’s menthol cigarettes also increased 1.5 times.

Currently the FDA is gathering information to determine if menthol used as a flavoring agent should be banned in cigarettes.

The Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) reported that the use of menthol cigarettes is highest among minorities, teenagers and low-income populations, saying that “the removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States.”

Even though the TPSAC was asked by the FDA to investigate the harmful effects of tobacco use and how it is marketed to the public, the FDA does not need to follow the committee’s recommendation.

A spokesperson for the FDA says that the edited version of the report will be available on the agency’s website soon, but no deadline has been made as to when a final decision on menthol would be made.

“The committee was charged with considering a broad definition of harm to smokers and other populations, particularly youth,” Henriksen told Reuters Health.

“The tobacco companies went out of their way to argue to the Food & Drug Administration that they don’t use racial targeting,” Henriksen says. “This evidence is not consistent with those claims.”

“We think our study, which shows the predatory marketing in school neighborhoods with higher concentrations of youth and African-American students, fits a broad definition of harm,” she says.

The study was published June 24 in Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

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