FACT SHEET: How Does the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement on Tobacco Affect African Americans?

[Excerpted from: The Potential Impact of the Master Tobacco Settlement on the African American Community, C.D. Sutton, The Onyx Group, November 1998. URL: www.onyx-group.com ]

In November 1998, Attorneys General from 46 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories signed a Master Settlement Agreement on tobacco with the tobacco companies and their agents. (Four states: Mississippi, Texas, Florida and Minnesota had already signed their own state Settlement Agreements with similar provisions.) The result was an 175-page legal document. In those pages, are a number of provisions that directly impact African Americans and other people of African descent. Here are some of the key provisions and the projected impact:

The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement on Tobacco:

Prohibits targeting youth in advertising, promotions or marketing and bars tobacco industry actions aimed at initiating, maintaining or increasing youth smoking; Supports legislation that limits youth access to tobacco. It is important to prevent all youth from smoking. Although Black youth smoking rates are far lower than smoking rates of White youth, the recent dramatic increase in smoking rates of Black male adolescents placed this issue on the front burner for many communities. Therefore, these provisions, if enforced, are viewed as positive from a Black community perspective.

Bans all billboard and transit advertising of tobacco products - not just the tobacco advertising on billboards in places close to schools and other locations frequented by children; Requires tobacco companies to designate a contact person for sign removal in each state so that billboards actually come down. This provision is particularly important to African Americans since billboards have been used since the 1950s as a way to target the Black community for tobacco use. Segregated housing patterns facilitated the use of eight sheets in low-income minority neighborhoods and numerous studies have shown that tobacco billboard advertising is disproportionately high in Black communities.

Allows states to substitute, at industry expense and for the duration of billboard lease periods, alternative advertising which discourages youth smoking and bans tobacco companies from entering into agreements which would prohibit advertising discouraging tobacco use. Given the number of tobacco billboards that are currently located in Black communities, this provision should permit states to mount large scale advertising campaigns designed for Black youth that promote tobacco-free lifestyles. Community-based organizations and Black-owned businesses probably will be able to access billboard space for positive messages, once the tobacco monopoly ends.

Eliminates all tobacco advertising, promotion, packaging or labeling using cartoon symbols but not tobacco advertising using people. While efforts to market Joe Camel as an icon for Camel menthols to African Americans lasted less than six months and a similar effort to market Kools to African American youth using a cartoon Penguin named Willie also was unsuccessful, the use of a cartoon icon was pivotal in the successful Kools marketing campaign to African American teenagers and young adults in the mid-1960s. However, since most of the target marketing of tobacco products to African Americans is accomplished through the use of attractive Black models, the elimination of tobacco advertising using people would have had more impact on the Black community than simply the elimination of the cartoons.

Bans future cigarette brands from being named after recognized non-tobacco brand or trade names or nationally recognized sports teams, entertainment groups or individual celebrities. Choosing brand names that reflect specific ethnic and cultural experiences is an approach that marketers of many consumer products have used to make inroads into communities of color. This provision prohibits tobacco companies from marketing to Black communities and other communities of color in this way.

Prohibits brand name sponsorship of events with a significant youth audience or team sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey or soccer) and prohibits sponsorship of events where the paid participants or contestants are underage. This is an important provision for the African American community because tobacco companies have gained influence and support over the years through philanthropic support of community-based activities. Because of the withdrawal of tobacco dollars, Black communities will need to be proactive to identify alternate sources of revenues from other corporations, from government and non-profit foundations and from the community itself.

Prohibits all brand name sponsorship of musical concerts with the exception that Brown & Williamson can choose to continue to sponsor the Kool Jazz Festival. Tobacco companies and alcohol companies have been major sponsors of Black cultural programs for decades. Jazz, the endangered Black classical music, has been a special beneficiary of tobacco industry largesse. Black dance companies have also benefitted. Replacement funds should be made available in instances where other non-tobacco funding cannot be secured and Black audiences will have to be cultivated in order to provide revenues that these programs require to survive and prosper.

Allows corporate sponsorship of athletic, musical, cultural, artistic or social events as long as the corporate name does not include the brand name of a domestic tobacco product. Although the Settlement Agreement permits sponsorships in the Black community to continue under the corporate name, this will not benefit the individual tobacco brands. While there may be some continued sponsorship of civic and cultural activities to build goodwill for the companies, tobacco funding for Black groups is likely to decrease significantly since there will be less marketing benefit attached to the corporate name than to the cigarette brand name.

Bans payments to promote tobacco products in movies, television shows, theater productions or live performances, videos and video games. There has been an increase in African American performers who smoke as part of movies and music videos and these are negative images for Black youth. Removing the tobacco influences in these areas is an important step toward keeping children and youth tobacco-free.

Bans free distribution and sale of non-tobacco merchandise, including caps, jackets or bags bearing the name, logo or selling message of a tobacco brand, including gifts and proof-of-purchase promotional campaigns. Promotional items such as caps and T-shirts with cigarette brand logos have become popular in Black communities, turning adult and youth wearers into "walking unpaid billboards" that promote tobacco products. Eliminating these items will remove these negative tobacco messages from our communities.