New Cigarette Condemned by Health Secretary : Marketing: Louis Sullivan says the promotion campaign for a new R. J. Reynolds brand targeted to blacks is “slick and sinister” and promotes a “culture of cancer.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan chastised the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. on Thursday for targeting a new cigarette brand at blacks and urged the company to halt test marketing plans.
“As the chief health officer of this land, I must condemn this,” Sullivan said of the company’s plans to test-market Uptown cigarettes in Philadelphia beginning Feb. 5. “This trade-off between profits and good health must stop.
“At a time when our people desperately need the message of health promotion, Uptown’s message is more disease, more suffering and more death for a group already bearing more than its share of smoking-related illness and mortality,” added Sullivan, a black physician.
The cigarette maker has said blacks, just like women and white males, deserve a brand tailored to their tastes.
Uptown is mentholated. About 75% of all black smokers choose mentholated brands, compared to only 23% of white smokers, according to the federal government’s Office on Smoking and Health.
In a speech delivered at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Sullivan described the planned promotion campaign as “slick and sinister” and accused the company of “promoting a culture of cancer.”
Sullivan said he has also written a letter to James W. Johnston, chief executive of the company, urging him to stop the planned promotion.
“While smoking poses a significant health threat to all segments of society, it is a particularly severe problem in the black community,” Sullivan wrote. “Higher smoking rates among blacks, especially black males, are a major reason why blacks experience higher rates of lung cancer, other cancers, heart disease and stroke, compared with whites.”
HHS officials said they believed that it was the first time a Cabinet secretary had singled out one particular cigarette for attack, although former Surgeon Gen. C. Everett Koop, during his nearly eight years in office, launched a tireless campaign against the tobacco industry.
Koop, in an interview Thursday, praised Sullivan’s action, calling it a “fitting and proper” response.
“It’s shocking to think that cigarette companies continue to exploit minorities, women, and blue-collar workers,” Koop said. “That is where the greatest problems exist in educating against the health effects of tobacco.”
Kay Young, a spokeswoman for the company, said it was “paternalistic” to think blacks could not make their own decisions about smoking. “I don’t think it’s right to say we are going to protect this group or that group from a product they say they already want,” she said.
Young said that the company is preparing a response to Sullivan’s comments, but “we will be sending it directly to him.”
Joann Schellenbach, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, said Sullivan’s comments were a “shot in the arm” to efforts already under way in the Philadelphia community to resist the introduction of Uptown.
She said a coalition of community groups, including minority organizations, hospitals, church groups and other community leaders, has been “raising a tremendous amount of consciousness to say: ‘We don’t want you in our town.’ ”
She added: “I’ve never seen such a groundswell, grass-roots effort to resist the predatory activities of tobacco companies in a neighborhood. And now someone very important to this community--who to this point has not done anything quite this outspoken--has made a very strong statement. He has turned this into a truly historic event.”
Sullivan, in his speech, called upon other groups across the country to join with the Philadelphia coalition “in an expression of anger and resolve.”
“Let this be just the beginning of an all-out effort, for there are other companies who are doing the very same thing,” he said. “We must resist the unworthy efforts of the tobacco merchants to earn profits at the expense of the health and well-being of our poor and minority citizens.”
It will stop, he said, “if around the country, our citizens rise up and say, ‘Enough--no more!’ ” Sullivan, in his letter, said cigarettes were responsible for an estimated 390,000 deaths a year and “are the only legal product on the market that are deadly when used exactly as intended.”