The leading menthol cigarette manufacturer in the United States may be targeting its advertisement campaigns toward African Americans youths, according to a School of Medicine study recently published in the Nicotine and Tobacco Research journal.
The study found that Newport, the leading menthol cigarette, is also the most popular brand among African-American smokers and the second most popular brand among young smokers. Author Lisa Henriksen, a senior researcher at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, said she conducted the study in order to supplement a body of studies that examine cigarette-marketing techniques directed toward certain demographics but do not include research on African Americans or youths.
“I worked on the FDA report about menthol and noticed that there were few studies about price, strategic marketing and price-vulnerable groups who smoke menthol cigarettes, so that was the reason for going back and looking at the data,” she said in a phone interview with The Daily.
The study found evidence contradicting claims made by Lorillard, Inc., the manufacturer of Newport cigarettes, to the Food and Drug Administration that it does not base availability of promotions on race or ethnicity.
“This evidence contradicts the manufacturer’s claims that the availability of its promotions is not based on race/ethnicity,” the study said.
The study examined data about advertisements, promotions and pack prices for Newport and for Marlboro, the leading non-menthol cigarette. Trained observers and researchers looked at these factors in 407 stores within walking distance from 91 high schools across California.
Henriksen said the most challenging part of completing the study was data collection and obtaining cigarette pack prices.
The study found that advertisements and promotions for Newport cigarettes were more likely to be found in neighborhoods with a higher proportion of African-American students. The advertised pack prices for Newport cigarettes were also lower in those same areas. These patterns did not appear for non-menthol cigarettes.
Henriksen emphasized that the study found that cigarette manufacturers target not only African Americans, but also youths. She called Lorillard’s marketing “predatory” in a statement to Reuters.
“I hope [the research] will call attention to the tobacco industry’s use of advertising and promotion to target vulnerable groups and encourage the FDA to consider that evidence in banning menthol,” she said to The Daily.
Congress passed The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009, which permits states and communities to develop restrictions on the time, place and manner of tobacco marketing. This act also banned a number of cigarette additives including candy, fruit and spice because of their possible appeal to youth, but the question of a menthol ban fell to the FDA, which has the power to ban menthol cigarettes under The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
Stanford Law professor Robert L. Rabin felt that the results of this study could influence a future menthol ban.
“The principal manufacturer of menthol cigarettes, I think something like 85 percent of their business is in menthol cigarettes, [is] going to continue to lobby very hard not to have a menthol ban,” Rabin said. “There’s lots of pressure on the other side. Stuff of this kind is likely to increase pressure to get menthol banned as an additive in cigarettes.”
Rabin also added that limiting the ways that cigarette manufacturers can market is “more complicated.”
Henriksen said that she plans to continue researching similar issues on a broader scale. She recently received a grant from the National Cancer Institute to examine tobacco industry marketing in a sample of stores across the nation.
“I hope I’ll have some opportunity to look at this problem in a larger, more representative sample,” she said.