The Great American Smokeout Offers An Opportunity To Stamp Out Smoking And Prolong Your Life

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You may think we are not confronted with as many cigarette and smoking messages these days as we were in the 1960s and 1970s before cigarette advertising was banned over the airwaves. In one sense, that is correct. We will never see cigarette ads broadcast during the big game or while watching our favorite television drama or comedy. Yet, the stench of smoking is still in the air, thanks to subtle "smoking is cool" messages that are transmitted during concerts, sporting events, in the entertainment media and through other activities sponsored by tobacco companies that have perfected these clever new approaches to getting their brand names before the eyes and minds of many African Americans, including our youth.  Quite simply, smoking remains a serious problem in the African American community and a lot of the trouble can be attributed to the continued "seepage" of smoking glorification media messages into African American culture.

Why bring up this topic now? Because November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and November 20 was the 33rd annual Great American Smokeout, a day set aside to inspire and encourage smokers to quit for one day if they are unable to make a long-term commitment to stopping smoking.  It is time to discuss smoking and tobacco because African Americans are disproportionately affected by smoking-related cancers.   African American men have the highest incidence and death rates of lung/bronchus, oral/pharynx, pancreatic, esophageal and larynx cancers. A lot of African American lives have been snuffed out due to cigarette smoking and many others have been damaged by secondhand smoke.

For African Americans, smoking, like so many other social ills, is connected to the presence and impact of long-term adverse social conditions like poverty. Low socio-economic status is shown to increase the risk for tobacco-related cancers.

While we may not always be able to control the socio-economic factors that affect us, we can increase our awareness and educate our youth about the sly marketing techniques and images that glorify smoking that they will be hit with in popular culture. A recent report from The National Cancer Institute titled, "The Promotion of Tobacco to Racial and Ethnic Groups", documents how African Americans and other minorities have been heavily targeted in tobacco advertising through the years.

As the report says, "Special products, imagery, and themes have characterized tobacco industry marketing to racial and ethnic groups. Market research has been applied to population segments to design products, messages, and promotions focused on the needs and vulnerabilities of particular groups. In addition, the tobacco industry has supported community leaders and sponsored events affiliated with various populations." Consider this information contained in the report:

  • Before they were banned near the end of the 20th century, cigarette billboards were found more often in the African American community
  • The tobacco industry has run product advertisements in predominantly African American publications since the late 1940s
  • "Menthol" brands and other special tobacco products were promoted to women initially then to African Americans.
  • One of the more popular cigarette brands among African Americans, "Kool", was manufactured by R.J. Reynolds and capitalized on darker-skinned models, language associated with the African American experience, and masculine images in advertising.  It became the top-selling cigarette to African American men.
  • As recent as 2004, the Brown & Williamson tobacco company was sponsoring the Kool Mixx DJ campaign in urban nightlife settings, featuring deejay competitions along with tobacco samples, special lighters with "green flames" and hip-hop music CDs.
  • As recent as 2004, the Brown & Williamson tobacco company was sponsoring the Kool Mixx DJ campaign in urban nightlife settings, featuring deejay competitions along with tobacco samples, special lighters with "green flames" and hip-hop music CDs.

So what does this have to do with you? Quite a lot. If you smoke, throw away that pack of cigarettes today and never look back. Throw away that pack of cigarettes and call 1-877-44U-QUIT (or visit www.smokefree.gov on the Web) to give yourself a chance at life -- a longer, healthier life. You can talk to a counselor who can help, by phone or instant message, and order evidence-based print materials that have helped other smokers quit. You don't have to become a statistic. We have suffered way too many losses in the African American community to take warnings about cigarette smoking lightly.

If you are a non-smoker, you can use the Great American Smokeout and Lung Cancer Awareness Month as an occasion to begin to educate your family, your friends and your neighbors about the hazards of smoking. One thing that you can do to make a difference is to say "no" to the numerous media messages that are blasted at us every day that indicate a "passive acceptance" of tobacco and smoking, whether that is movies, television, or major cultural and sporting events with tobacco sponsorship that may seem, on its face, to be harmless business arrangements.

In reality, all forms of media messaging and subtle advertising about tobacco and smoking that either ignore or gloss over the dangers are harmful. Subtle messages that indicate "smoking is cool" are themselves like the slow burn of a cigarette – the lit end charring down at a snail's pace with every inhaled puff, but surely headed to a point where there is nothing left.

The National Cancer Institute is the nation's lead federal agency for cancer research. For more information about cancer research and resources, visit www.cancer.gov or call toll-free 1-800-4CANCER.

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