National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery

NEWS RELEASE -- October 21, 1998


Philadelphia, PA - The Uptown Coalition for Tobacco Control and Public Health and the National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery (NAAAPI) have joined with individual African American current and former smokers of menthol cigarettes in a landmark national civil rights lawsuit against tobacco companies that manufacture mentholated tobacco products and their agents. The class action lawsuit, with Reverend Jesse W. Brown, Jr. and the Uptown Coalition as lead plaintiffs, was filed in Federal District Court in Philadelphia on October 19, 1998, based on the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1870 and the 13th and 14th Amendments. William R. Adams, Jr. Esq. and Stephen Sheller, Esq., who are co-counsel, briefed the media on the lawsuit on October 21 at a news conference.

The lawsuit seeks "a permanent injunction to require the Tobacco Companies to immediately cease and desist from manufacturing, selling and promoting menthol tobacco products and targeting such defective products to Black Americans." In addition, the lawsuit asks the court to require the companies and their agents to "publicly disclose" their secret research on menthol, to establish a public education program on the dangers of mentholated tobacco products, and to establish smoking and smokeless tobacco cessation programs for African American menthol smokers.

According to Reverend Jesse W. Brown, Jr. - founding president of NAAAPI, chair of the Uptown Coalition and lead plaintiff - information in the documents released earlier this year as part of the Minnesota Tobacco Settlement show that the tobacco company files contain previously-hidden studies on menthol going back 50 years.

"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?"

"Bringing suit against the makers of menthol cigarettes in federal court is a way to get at the truth because it will force the tobacco companies to open their private research studies on menthol to public view. " Reverend Brown is one of the original spokespersons for the community coalition that fought successfully against the test-marking of the Uptown cigarette in Philadelphia, PA in 1990. (Uptown was a menthol cigarette that was especially designed for African American smokers.) In 1995, the NAAAPI affiliate in Boston - Churches Organized to Stop Tobacco (COST) - was successful in removing X cigarettes, a local menthol brand, from store shelves. NAAAPI also initiated the national "Say No to Menthol Joe Community Crusade" last year that fought the use of "Smooth Joe Camel" in marketing its new menthol version of Camel cigarettes in Black communities and Black media.

Studies in the 1998 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Tobacco Use in Racial/Ethnic Minorities (and in other major journals), strongly suggestion that the addition of menthol to cigarettes allows smokers to inhale more deeply. Some researchers feel this may be one of the reasons why African Americans suffer higher rates of death from smoking even though, on average, African Americans smoke 35% fewer cigarettes per day than Whites.

Documents already uncovered by the legal team involved in this lawsuit indicate that menthol when burned has dangerous properties. That would make mentholated cigarettes more unhealthy than regular cigarettes. Yet the public perception, according to the tobacco industry's own research, is that adding menthol makes cigarettes less harmful because of the cooling sensation of menthol in the throat and its association with beneficial products like menthol cough drops. Furthermore, the Food & Drug Administration, which already regulates the use of menthol as an additive in food and drugs, has never been allowed to regulate menthol in cigarettes.

"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. "That is why we have decided to take this issue to federal court."