Black media now seeks inclusion in tobacco settlement
By George E. Curry
The National Association of Newspaper Publishers (NNPA) and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB), two industry trade associations whose members reach more than 95 percent of African Americans, filed a friend-of-the-court brief objecting to the exclusion of all Black media companies in a proposed settlement that requires the tobacco industry to run ads and TV commercials to correct their misleading assertions about the harmful effects of smoking.
The amicus brief was filed last Friday in federal court in Washington, D.C. U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler is expected to review the proposed agreement Wednesday and consider the merits of the brief filed by NNPA and NABOB.
An agreement was reached January 9 between the U.S. Justice Department, the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, and the four major tobacco manufacturers — Altria, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard and Philip Morris USA — on what “corrective statements” the tobacco industry should be forced to make in “corrective statements.” These ads would address the falsehoods the manufacturers have disseminated about the harmful effects of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking, the dangers of second-hand smoke, and claims that low-tar and light cigarettes are healthier than regular cigarettes.
The Justice Department sued the tobacco companies in 1999, charging that they violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Judge Kessler found them guilty in 2006. The judge ruled that the companies were not liable for monetary damages under RICO, but ordered them to make the “corrective statements.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has rejected two industry appeals. The Supreme Court has refused to accept an appeal from the tobacco giants, who are still suing over Kessler’s order to include the “corrective statements” in “point of sale” displays at retail outlets.
Under the proposed agreement, the tobacco companies must purchase full-page Sunday ads in 35 newspapers and commercials on either ABC, CBS or NBC networks four days a week for a year. Target Market News, which broke the story of the settlement proposal, estimates the value of the ad buy at $30 million to $45 million. In her initial ruling against the tobacco industry in 2006, Judge Kessler provided a list of publications where “corrective statements” should be made. Not a single Black newspaper, magazine, or broadcast outlet was included on the list drawn up by the judge.
The Black media trade associations say that was a mistake. “The Defendants targeted the African America community with advertising campaigns which were delivered in part by their paid advertisements in African American print and electronic media,” the amicus brief states.
“The proposed remedy does not list any media which specifically targets the African American community. To insure that the Corrective Statements reach the population that the Defendants targeted, the court should require the parties to jointly select alternative newspapers that specifically target the African American community.”
Targeting Blacks with tobacco products has had a devastating effect on the African American community, the brief notes. “Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both African American men and women, and it kills more African Americans than any type of cancer,” it says. “According to the Centers for Disease Control, while adjusting for age, from 2006 through 2010, African Americans had the highest incidence rates of lung and bronchus cancer (64.8 per 100,000 people) of any ethnic group and the general population (61.7 per 100,000 people).
“In 2011, more than 23,000 new cases of lung and bronchus cancer are expected to occur among African Americans and more than 16,000 African Americans are expected to die from the disease. African American teen smokers also have a greater risk of developing long-term consequences from smoking than other ethnic groups, and are in danger of experiencing the negative effects of tobacco earlier in their lifetimes.”
Despite the disproportionate number of deaths, tobacco companies looked to Blacks to replace those who died or quit using their products. “The record clearly demonstrates that the Defendants specifically targeted African Americans to encourage them to smoke,” the brief observed.
“The Defendants recognized that new smokers, who could replace smokers who died or quit, were essential to their continued profits. The Court noted, for example, an internal 1981 Lorillard document commenting that the company “must continually keep in mind that Newport is being heavily supported by blacks and the under 18 smokers. We are on somewhat thin ice should either of these two groups decide to shift their smoking habits.’
“To locate new black smokers, the Defendants used targeted marketing tactics. Tactics included sponsorship for youth sports teams, advertisements featuring black athletes, tie-ins with professional sports teams, tie-ins with record companies, and scholarships for underprivileged youth. One memorandum recommended ‘tie-in with any company who help blacks — We help them, they help us.’
“It suggested targeting groups that are 16 and older, and sponsoring Miss Black Teenager contests. It also specifically discussed ‘[h]ow to reach Younger Smokers: P.O.S. [point of sale] material, sampling, Black inner-city newspapers, [and] Tee-shirt giveaways.”
The brief cited data showing tobacco companies “even designed brands with the express purpose of targeting the black community for their use.”
Special efforts to get Blacks to become smokers notwithstanding, the Black press is being ignored in plans to educate the public about the misdeeds of the tobacco industry. Cloves C. Campbell, chairman of the NNPA, said, “It is sad that an industry that sought to exploit our community with a product that is harmful to our health now seeks to further devalue African Americans by ignoring the Black media when it is being forced to atone for what a federal judge determined was a deliberate effort to deceive the American public.”
A 2012 Nielsen report on African American consumers was cited in the brief to show that 91 percent of African Americans believe Black media is more relevant to them. In addition, 81 percent of Blacks believe that products advertised in Black media are more relevant to them.
If parties to the agreement are serious about reaching Black consumers, they can’t ignore the NNPA’s approximately 200 Black-owned newspapers and NABOB’s 200 Black-owned radio stations, three commercial television stations, and one cable TV network, the brief stated.
It said, “Advertisements with NNPA and NABOB will disseminate the information more comprehensively and more directly to members of the African American community, which was a primary target of the Defendants’ extensive marketing practices to promote smoking. Because the Defendants directly and intentionally targeted the African American community, the publication of the text of the court-ordered corrective statement by NNPA and NABOB members will be a more effective and complete remedy for the Defendants’ harmful conduct.”
George E. Curry is editor-in-chief for the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).