Although public commentary describes the United States as "post-racial", racism continues to exert a very real and pervasive influence on institutional policies and processes, interpersonal interactions, neighborhood infrastructure, socioeconomic opportunities, media imagery, and more. RISE is a project designed to illuminate some of the ways in which racism operates in this country.

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Tobacco documents Set #3.  Each file is named with the name of the tobacco company, the year of the document, and the Bates #, which is an ID number at the UCSF Legacy Library.  nd means No Date, the year of the document was not available.  In order they are:

1.  RJReynolds.1987.506080393
2.  RJReynolds.1987.514341825
3.  RJReynolds.1989.507168676
4.  RJReynolds.1989.507307343
5.  RJReynolds.1989.511426222
6.  RJReynolds.1990.507475465
7.  RJReynolds.1991.507767998
8.  RJReynolds.nd.507768199
9.  RJReynolds.nd.674156721

Descriptions of content from just a few of these documents appears below:

PhilipMorris.1982.1002688587:  The company developed a “product sampling” program designed to “significantly increase trial and repeat purchase of Benson & Hedges brands among black and hispanic consumers—with particular emphasis on female smokers between 25 and 45 years old, living in major metropolitan areas.”  The increase in “trial” means that they want to increase the numbers of people who try the cigarettes for the first time, not just people who already smoke.  Big Tobacco routinely argued that they only wanted people who already smoke to switch brands, but in fact they wanted and needed to obtain new smokers as well to maintain their business (particularly because longtime smokers may die).

PhilipMorris.1983.2043891465:  “…the black ethnic market offers a significant opportunity for Benson & Hedges.  While it is still a complex and diverse market, it is no longer as homogeneous in nature as it was during the 1960’s and 1970’s.” Also, “black Americans do not have a clearly defined national origin as do other ethnic groups such as Hispanics, Germans or Italians.  Thus, common ties to country of origin do not, strictly speaking, exist.”  Although Philip Morris was apparently unaware, Black people as group were never homogeneous—White corporations simply failed to see the variability in income, education, consumer preferences, culture, and more.  Regarding culture, Philip Morris suggests that Black people have no culture or national identities. 

PhilipMorris.1993.2041010348:  The company describes community events in which it wishes to place ads, such as Black Expos in NYC and Washington, DC.  Sponsoring community events and organizations was an important strategy for Big Tobacco, to build not only brand awareness but perceptions of the company as supportive of the Black community.  Also, the year (1993) shows that Big Tobacco’s targeting of Black people is not simply a thing of the distant past. 

RJReynolds.1979.501019260:  The company seeks upper income segments of the Black community, and develops a program to target this population, stating that “KOOL does not appeal to certain segments of Black smokers because of negative attitudes toward KOOL which are a function of negative product (harsh, uncomfortable) and smoker (“ghetto brand”) perceptions.  Note that menthol cigarettes (like KOOL) included menthol in order to reduce the bitter taste and harshness of nicotine and smoke.  Young smokers are therefore more likely to smoke menthols.

RJReynolds.1981.661081684:  “KOOL’s share position in the Black submarket is large and therefore critical for the brand.  There is some evidence to suggest the brand’s vitality is suffering in this area.  It is obviously important to deal with the Black submarket such that the threat to KOOL is nullified.”  This quote shows that maintaining high spending on KOOL by Black smokers was necessary to keep the brand alive, and RJ Reynolds was prepared to devote significant resources to make that happen.

RJReynolds.1986.661096850:  “Not surprisingly, KOOL’s overall image is that of a laid-back, rough, streetwise black male.  If employed, he works in a physically strenuous job…He smokes out of a need to cope with frustration rather than for satisfaction and relaxation.”  This summary of perceptions of KOOL argues that the brand is connected with the “hardships of ghetto life”, and the company seems to suggest that marketing could take advantage of this hardship, promoting smoking as a means of escape from life in the ghetto.  The summary goes on to say  “…young adults may be realizing at an early age that there are limits on their ability to control their destinies.  The brand should continue this positioning, enhancing it with feelings of satisfaction and pleasure.”

RJReynolds.1989.507168676:  A company document tries to describe young Black adult smokers.  The text states, “I am twenty years old and live in Harlem.  Like many of my friends, school did not work out for me, so I dropped out…Even uptown, in my neighborhood, it is hard for me to establish who I am.  I have very limited money to show what I am about…My  clothes…my brand of cigarette or jewelry all say something about me.  My friends also like the way I rap and dance.”  This text relies on and reproduces stereotypes of Black people as high school dropouts with little self-awareness or self-esteem, as poor but oriented around materialistic things (including cigarettes) to express oneself, and as rapping and dancing.  The text does not provide any insight into why certain social conditions exist, such as dropping out of school or difficulty finding work.

RJReynolds.1989.507307343:  In developing a new brand, to be named “Fat Boys”, the company notes that “In order to be as relevant as possible, the advertising should relate to the environment and the interests of the inner-city Black.  It is recommended that the advertising utilize the popularity of “Rap” music among this group to create relevant and appealing advertising.”  The company also describe outdoor advertising as a key component of the marketing.  Indeed, research has shown that Black neighborhoods have/had disproportionate densities of alcohol and tobacco ads [11-15].

RJReynolds.1990.507475465:  The company now seeks to capitalize on social movements around Afrocentricity.  Noting that Afrocentricity is an expression of positive self-esteem and racial identity, the company notes that it could be a way to communicate to Black male target audiences. 

In conclusion, Big Tobacco has used a number of ways to target Black people.  In the 1950s and 1960s, in the context of the civil rights movement, Big Tobacco positioned cigarettes as part and parcel of the upward mobility, equality, and social progress that Black people sought [7].  These strategies have continued in recent years.  Other strategies include promoting cigarette smoking as an escape from the hardships wrought by racism and disinvestment in the Black community, promoting tobacco companies as an ally of the Black community, promoting cigarette smoking through the expropriation of cultural products such as rap music, and active targeting of Black people where they live through face to face contacts and outdoor advertising.  Taken together, these strategies are based on, and reinforce racial hierarchy. 


[2] Meier, B.  Data on tobacco show a strategy aimed at Blacks.  The New York Times, February 6, 1998. 

[3] Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  (2011).  The Way We Were:  Tobacco Ads Through the Years.  Princeton, NJ:  Author.  Available at:

[4] Bonilla-Silva, E. (1996). Rethinking racism:  Toward a structural interpretation. American Sociological Review, 62, 465-480.

[5] American Cancer Society.  (2012).  What are the key statistics about lung cancer?

[6] American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2011-2012. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2011.

[7] Lochlann Jain, S.S.  (2003).  “Come up to the Kool taste”:  African American upward mobility and the semiotics of smoking menthols.  Public Culture, 15, 295-322.

[8]  Bates #87028751 at the UCSF Legacy Library.


[10] John, R., Cheney, M.K., & Azad, M.R.  (2009).  Point-of-sale marketing of tobacco products:  Taking advantage of the socially disadvantaged?  Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 20, 489-506.

[11] Altman, D., Schooler, C., & Basil, M. (1991). Alcohol and cigarette advertising on billboards. . Health Education Research, 6, 487-490.

[12] Hackbarth, D., Silvestri B, & Cosper W. (1995). Tobacco and alcohol billboards in 50 Chicago neighborhoods:  Market segmentation to sell dangerous products to the poor.  . Journal of Public Health Policy, 16, 213-230.

[13] Mitchell, O., & Greenberg, M. (1991). Outdoor advertising of addictive products. New Jersey Medicine, 88(5), 331-333.

[14] Moore, H., Jones-Webb, R., Toomey, T., & Lenk, K. (2009). Alcohol advertising on billboards, transit shelters, and bus benches in inner-city neighborhoods. Contemporary Drug Problems, 35(2/3), 509-532.

[15] Primack, B. A., Bost, J. E., Land, S. R., & Fine, M. J. (2007). Volume of tobacco advertising in African American markets:  Systematic review and meta-analysis. Public Health Reports, 122, 607-615.

"Every time you turn around and want to get something to eat the only thing you see is one of these greasy joints and fast food restaurants."

"The community right here is all fast food restaurants, you don’t have the vegetables and what you’re supposed to be eating.  You got to go out the neighborhood to get it."

These statements were made by residents on Chicago’s South Side [1], but they could have been uttered by residents from any number of Black neighborhoods across the country.  It has long been voiced at the community level that Black neighborhoods have disproportionate densities of fast food restaurants.  And research studies have consistently supported these claims [2].

A 2004 study conducted in New Orleans looked at the relationship between fast food density (the number of restaurants per square mile in shopping areas) and the percentage of Black residents.  They also looked at the effect of neighborhood income.  Only the percentage of Black residents was related to fast food density, and Black neighborhoods had 6 times as much fast food as White neighborhoods [3].  On the other hand, a study in Atlanta showed that low and high income predominantly Black areas had less access than comparable White areas to restaurants that were not fast food [4].  The fact that this was true for low and high income areas highlights the fact that income is not the driving factor.  It is often assumed that if Black neighborhoods have high densities of fast food restaurants, it is because those neighborhoods are lower in income than White neighborhoods, and perhaps fast food companies target lower income customers.  But research consistently shows that income is not the only factor.  In some studies, race is just as important as income.  In others, race is the only important factor.

For example, a study in New York City showed that across the 5 boroughs, fast food was prevalent in commercial areas, such as shopping districts, tourist areas, transportation hubs and central business districts (e.g., Times Square, Port Authority, Penn Station, Wall Street).  But in residential neighborhoods, fast food was most prevalent in Black and Latino neighborhoods [5].  In that study, the percentage of Black residents was the strongest predictor of fast food density—income was not related.  White and Black areas with comparable incomes did not have the same exposure to fast food, and Black areas that were high in income did not have lower exposure than areas that were lower in income.  This suggests that fast food location in NYC is about race, not income. 

In Latino and Black South Los Angeles, a study found that 73% of restaurants were limited service, while only 27% were full service.  And, compared to predominantly White West Los Angeles, the community had fewer restaurants overall—half as many, in fact.  Finally, only 27% of restaurants in South L.A. used healthy food preparation options, compared to 40% in West L.A. [6]. In a study conducted in several U.S. cities, not only was fast food exposure greater in Black neighborhoods, but exposure to fast food was related to greater consumption of fast food and lower probability of consuming a healthy diet [7].  Indeed, several studies have shown that proximity to fast food is related to greater consumption, higher obesity prevalence, and chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease. 

And, although Black neighborhoods are overabundant in fast food, research also shows that they have less access to supermarkets [8].  It is also worth noting that research also shows Black neighborhoods to have fewer retail stores in general (stores that are not fast food).  For example, also in NYC, predominantly Black zip codes had fewer retail stores than White zip codes, and there was less diversity in the types of food service stores.  This was true even though Black zip codes had the same amount of retail space and more transit rail than White zip codes [9].  Research at the national level also shows that Black neighborhoods have less retail.  Again, the same findings do not emerge for income as for race [10. 

Below are a few images to illustrate some key points.

As stated above, Chicago’s South Side has a high density of fast food.  The first map below shows some of the fast food and liquor stores that are in and around the Grand Boulevard neighborhood.  No supermarkets operate in the area—the only places to buy food are from food and liquor stores such as Calumet Food and Liquor.  The next set of maps show fast food in Central and East Harlem, compared to the Upper East Side.  As can be seen, Harlem has much more fast food, which is what the NYC Department of Health reported in 2007 [11]. The last map compares Bedford-Stuyvesant to Park Slope.  Again, predominantly Black Bed-stuy has more fast food.These maps show both national chains and smaller chains that sell fried chicken.  Many of these smaller chains with fried chicken in their name are pervasive in Black communities, whether it be New York, Newark or Philly.

Fast food in Chicago

Fast food in Chicago

National chains in Harlem

National chains in Harlem

National chains on the Upper East Side

National chains on the Upper East Side

Fried chicken restaurants in Harlem and the Upper East Side

Fried chicken restaurants in Harlem and the Upper East Side

Fried chicken in Bed-stuy and Park Slope

Fried chicken in Bed-stuy and Park Slope