FACT SHEET: MENTHOL CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT
[This Fact Sheet on the Menthol Civil Rights Lawsuit against the tobacco industry was prepared and posted on the web site of the National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery -- www.onyx-group.com ]
The National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery (NAAAPI), the Uptown Coalition for Tobacco Control and Public Health, and individual African American smokers of menthol cigarettes filed a civil rights class-action lawsuit against U.S. tobacco companies that manufacture menthol cigarettes on October 19, 1998. The lawsuit, Jesse Brown et. al. v. Philip Morris et. al., charges that tobacco companies deliberately targeted African Americans with a more deadly form of cigarettes.Ê Reverend Jesse W. Brown, Jr., lead plaintiff, is the founding president of NAAAPI and chairs the Uptown Coalition, located in Philadelphia, PA.
Basis for lawsuit:
The menthol lawsuit is based on the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1870 and the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. It is believed to be the first lawsuit filed against the tobacco industry on behalf of African Americans. Oral arguments on the tobacco industry's motion to dismiss the lawsuit are scheduled for April 7, 1999 in the Federal District Court in Philadelphia.
Menthol has been suspected for many years as an important factor in the high death rates of African-Americans from smoking-related diseases. (Research shows that African Americans smoke fewer cigarettes than White Americans, yet suffer worse health effects.) But not until the secret tobacco industry's documents became public last year did the real dangers of menthol begin to emerge.
"There has been an urban legend in Black communities for decades that said menthol was deadly," Reverend Brown said. "When we compare the menthol smoking rates in our community with the rate of death from tobacco use, we have to ask: was some part of the legend true?"
The target marketing of menthol cigarettes to African Americans has been done through use of Black-oriented media, billboards in Black communities, promotional items and special events.
"We believe that the tobacco companies have deliberately targeted the African American community with a particularly defective and deadly form of cigarettes -- menthol. And unfortunately, menthol cigarettes are now the preferred brand for Black youth," Reverend Brown said.
What can the lawsuit hope to accomplish?
In addition to monetary damages, the menthol lawsuit seeks:
- A permanent injunction to stop all sales and marketing of menthol cigarettes;
- Public disclosure of all tobacco industry research on the health effects of menthol in tobacco products;
- The establishment of a program to educate the public on the health risks of menthol in tobacco products;
- The establishment of special cessation programs to help smokers who are addicted to mentholated tobacco products.
What will be the long-term benefits to the Black community?
If it is successful, the menthol civil rights lawsuit will:
- Force tobacco companies to publicly disclose their research on menthol;
- Educate the general public on the health effects of menthol in cigarettes;
- Show the African American community the duplicity of tobacco industry behavior;
- Encourage government and private institutions to do more research on mentholated cigarettes;
- Demonstrate why the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) should be given power to regulate all additives in cigarettes and other tobacco products, such as menthol;
- Convince smokers of menthol cigarettes to quit and provide more effective ways for them to become EX-smokers.
- Help African American youth remain tobacco-free, since nine out of ten African American teenagers who smoke select menthol brands.
What are the next steps?
While these are all likely outcomes of the lawsuit if it is successful, there is no need to wait until the lawsuit is decided for African Americans and others who smoke mentholated cigarette brands to take immediate action and fight back.
We are asking organizations of youth and adults in Black communities throughout the country to begin active health campaigns to convince smokers of menthol cigarettes in our communities to Quit Today! and to encourage more attention to the dangers of menthol by government agencies and health groups.
For more information on planned activities to inform Black smokers about the dangers of menthol cigarettes or to suggest action strategies, contact NAAAPI at 215-477-4113 or visit The Onyx Group website at www.onyx-group.com where updated information is posted weekly. This message was posted 3/19/99.