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How Did Menthols Become the "African American Cigarette"?

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An interesting article by Tom McNichol over at The Atlantic examines the history of menthol cigarettes and the African American community.

It was just last week that the FDA declined to ban menthol cigarettes, sending Lorillard stock -- the company behind Newport -- up roughly 10% after the advisory panel's report [PDF] came out.

McNichol writes:

An Ohio man named Lloyd "Spud" Hughes is credited with introducing American smokers to the refreshing taste of menthol cigarettes in 1925. Hughes was working as a cashier in a restaurant when he came up with the idea of adding menthol flavoring to give the illusion of a "cooler" smoke. Thus was born Spud brand cigarettes, the first widely sold menthol smoke in America. By 1932, Spuds had become the fifth most popular cigarettes in the country.
                                            

McNichol says, "No one really knows how African Americans came to prefer menthol cigarettes in the first place. But relentlessly targeted marketing campaigns locked the preference in place."

He continues:

Internal tobacco company research in the early 1950s showed a slight preference for menthol Kools among African American smokers, and firms quickly capitalized by marketing menthol smokes directly to blacks. African American baseball player Elston Howard was an early spokesman for menthol Kools in the late 1950s. "You feel a new smoothness deep in your throat," proclaimed ads featuring Howard, a star catcher for the New York Yankees.

In the late 1970s, the makers of Newport used the James Brown hit "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" to trumpet the message "Newport is a whole new bag of menthol smoking."

                                        

Later, the Kool Jazz Festival and hip-hop concerts were used to promote menthols among African Americans. Menthol smokes soon acquired an edgy urban quality—a dangerous smoke. "Smokin' mad Newports/'cause I'm due in court," the Notorious B.I.G. rapped on his 1994 hit "Everyday Struggle." The FDA advisory committee report notes the longstanding popularity of menthol among African Americans, but skirts the issue of how that preference came to be.

In the face of a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes, Lorillard, makers of industry-leading Newport, has framed the debate as nothing less than a civil rights issue. One Lorillard promotional ad depicts an African American woman accompanied by the headline "Freedom of Choice for Grown Folks." The ad notes that "the history of African Americans in this country has been one of fighting against paternalistic limitations and for freedoms" and that adults should have the freedom to choose to smoke menthol cigarettes.


As the FDA decided not to institute "an outright ban on menthol," McNichol reassures smokers that, "for now, lovers of menthol cigarettes can breathe easier—assuming their lungs still function. Menthol cigarettes are likely to be around for the foreseeable future, easily outliving the folks who enjoy them."

Even this misguided fellow, who is apparently suffering from one hell of an identity crisis:

POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.

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