Opinion: Big Tobacco, Butt Out!

By Carol McGruder, Co-Chair, African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council

Federally adjudicated racketeers (aka Big Tobacco) finally started their series of court-ordered apologies to the American public.

These bland, soulless, perfunctory ads will run for the next year and are part of the remedy to the 2006 U.S. District ruling that found the tobacco industry engaged in an illegal, decades-long campaign to deceive smokers about the health hazards of smoking, in violation of a 1970 federal anti-racketeering law.

The tobacco companies, the judge wrote, “Have marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”

But, even while Big Tobacco runs these “corrective ads”, they are shamelessly trying to undo a historic new law that would keep kids from a lifetime addiction to nicotine. Two groups are perniciously targeted by tobacco marketing: our children and people of color. This deadly form of social inequity played a prominent role in San Francisco’s heroic efforts to enact an ordinance to prevent death and devastation from tobacco and address this critical civil rights infringement.

Parents, their children, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and public health leaders, as part of the group SF Kids vs. Big Tobacco, took to the steps of City Hall on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to say, “Health is a Civil Right!” and ask every politician, candidate and political club in San Francisco to side with our children by refusing to take money from tobacco companies.

The tobacco industry targets African Americans with its marketing of menthols and buys off leaders who could stop it in order to keep communities of color addicted to nicotine. It must stop. Cancer and lung disease are crippling our community, and we are not going to stand by quietly as the tobacco industry continues to rake in their billions of dollars in profits; addict another generation of our children to replace those smokers who are able to quit or those who die.

The effort comes as tobacco companies prepare to wage a massive campaign to overturn the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ unanimous decision to restrict the sale of candy flavored tobacco products and menthols. Last summer, the late Mayor Ed Lee signed into law a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes and all tobacco products including candy-flavored e-cigarettes.
That’s what sparked a backlash from the tobacco industry, which is trying to overturn the law with a June ballot measure. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company is the sole funder of a referendum campaign.

How can we protect our kids from getting hooked on deadly tobacco products if powerful politicians and other local leaders get hooked on tobacco industry money? The best way to kick the habit is to never start in the first place, and we hope every leader, candidate and club in San Francisco will take a pledge to protect our kids.

Go to www.sfkidsvsbigtobacco.com to join our efforts!


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  1. Tomya Shipp

    15 January

    I like the attitude of African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the public health leaders as part of the group SF Kids, that health is a civil right! Spread that message! I hate sitting at the bus stop or at Starbucks and getting seconnd hand smoke.

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