Return to News Feb 10, 2022 - Press Release For Immediate Release:

CONTACT: Jonathan Underland, 856-842-6757

NFL Stars, Black Leaders Call Out Big Tobacco for Decades of Racist Targeting of Black Community and Deliberately Targeting Youth with Minty-Menthol and Other Candy-Flavored Cigarettes

Members of the Newly-Formed Black Leaders Against Tobacco Injustice Say Big Tobacco is Racist for Creating and Profiting from a Cycle of Black Addiction, Disease, and Death from Tobacco Use


Los Angeles, CA – For generations, the tobacco industry has been preying on Black Americans, who now die of heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, and other tobacco-related diseases at rates far higher than whites. Today, a group of leading Black voices in California announced the formation of Black Leaders Against Tobacco Injustice – a coalition committed to reversing decades of Big Tobacco’s racist attacks on Black communities by  shine a light on the industry’s systematic 400-year history of slavery, racism, micro-targeting and profiting off of Black bodies and death.

“Our purpose as Black Leaders Against Tobacco Injustice is to make sure all Californians know the truth: that Big Tobacco is making big profits from the cycle of addiction, disease, and death their racist targeting of our community has caused,” said Carol McGruder, Chair of Black Leaders Against Tobacco Injustice and Chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “Our children are not born with a Newport or an e-cigarette between their fingers. Big Tobacco runs a highly-organized and well-funded operation specifically designed to hook young Black men and women on nicotine, luring them with candy-flavored tobacco products like minty-menthol cigarettes. We aim to put a stop to this deadly practice in California.”

Joining the Black Leaders Against Tobacco Injustice on Thursday was top NFL prospect Kavon Thibodeaux and star Marcus Williams, All-Pro Safety for the New Orleans Saints. Taking the stage, Marcus said, “I would like to lift up the Black Leaders Against Tobacco Injustice for their commitment to protect California kids and push back against the tobacco industry’s predatory marketing of menthol to Black youth. I stand in solidarity to ensure that our Black youth can live healthy and active lives, while pursuing their dreams. I am thankful for the safe space created by the support from my community that has allowed me to rise in my career as a professional athlete, so I know how important it is to give back." 

“Big Tobacco has been profiting off Black bodies for decades, and it’s time we finally said enough,” said Paulette Gipson, President, Comptom NAACP. “Black communities being systematically targeted by massive tobacco corporations for nicotine addiction that causes generations of disease and death is not freedom – it is among the sickest forms of racist oppression. I am proud to help lead the Black Leaders Against Tobacco Injustice in the fight to end Big Tobacco’s racist and destructive reign by taking minty-menthol cigarettes and candy-flavored tobacco off the shelves once and for all.”

The national dialogue right now has focused on holding those accountable who abuse and harm our communities, and that includes Big Tobacco,” said Eric Batch, Vice President, Advocacy, The American Heart Association. “The tobacco industry is responsible for millions of premature Black deaths by marketing addictive minty-menthol cigarettes to Black kids as ‘part of Black culture’ which can lead to a lifetime of tobacco-related illnesses. As Black Leaders Against Tobacco Injustice, we are committed to reversing decades of lies and harm by leading the fight to take candy-flavored tobacco including minty-menthol cigarettes off store shelves in our neighborhoods and across California.”

Tobacco companies have been systematically targeting Black Americans and other communities of color with their highly addictive minty menthol tobacco. In the 1950s, fewer than 10% of Black Americans who smoked used minty menthols. Today, 85% do. Nearly 123 Black Americans die each day from tobacco related illness. Big Tobacco has hooked generations of Black youth on minty-sweet menthol cigarettes and other candy-flavored tobacco products, profiting off addiction, disease and death.

Black Leaders Against Tobacco Injustice members include:

  • Carol McGruder, Chair; and founding member and co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council
  • Reverend Paulette Gipson, Member; and President of the Compton NAACP
  • Eric Batch, Member; and Vice President of Advocacy for the American Heart Association
  • Reverend John Cager III, Member; and Pastor of Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Malia Cohen, Member; and Chair of the California State Board of Equalization
  • Dr. Philip Gardner, Member; and founding member and co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council
  • Dr. Valerie Yerger, Member; and founding member of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council