Secret documents reveal tobacco industry influence on African American groups

Previously secret documents show that tobacco companies provided money, cultivated social and political ties, and aggressively offered free cigarettes to African American leadership groups - even as the evidence grew that African Americans bear a disproportionate share of the tobacco-related disease burden.

UCSF researchers will present findings from a new study of the internal tobacco industry documents at a press conference to be held at 11 a.m. (PST), Wednesday, November 20, 2002 at the Hilton Hotel, 333 O’Farrell Street, SF, Union Square, Room 14 (Building 3, 4th floor). The research appears in the December 2002 issue of the journal Tobacco Control, published by the British Medical Association.

Recipients of tobacco money included more than 60 African American organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the congressional Black Caucus, the National Black Police Association, and the National Urban League, said UCSF researchers.

“The combination of money, opportunities for cigarette sampling, and shared board relationships between the tobacco industry and African American leadership groups have all shaped tobacco’s pervasive presence in African American communities,” said Valerie Yerger, MA, ND, research associate in the UCSF School of Nursing and lead author of the study. “Tobacco kills too many African Americans, particularly elders. It’s time to look at the true cost of accepting tobacco money.”

The study shows that tobacco industry representatives sought out African American leaders to oppose policies restricting smoking in public places and to circumvent laws and policies prohibiting cigarette sampling in public schools and parks, said Yerger. In addition, the industry relied heavily on African American leaders to make the case that raising cigarette taxes hurt African Americans. To accomplish this, tobacco industry representatives coordinated press conferences and provided material for op-eds that appeared in the black press, she said.

“Loyalty has limits,” said Charyn Sutton, a nationally known tobacco control advocate in the black community. “In balancing the damage done by tobacco against the benefits of tobacco money and support, the black community has lost far more than it has gained.”

The press conference is sponsored by national leaders of the African American tobacco control movement, including the Reverend Jesse Brown Jr., executive director of the National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery, which spearheaded the successful campaign against Uptown, a menthol cigarette created by R.J. Reynolds that was to be marketed to the black community. 

Senior author on the study is Ruth Malone, PhD, associate professor in the UCSF School of Nursing. The study was funded by the California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program and the National Cancer Institute.

* NOTE TO THE MEDIA:  UCSF researchers and others will be available for comment at the press conference.  To make other arrangements, reporters should call Maureen McInaney at (415) 476-2557.