Targeted Communities

Big Tobacco Finds Us Where We Live

What is Big Tobacco selling in your community? How likely are you to see a cigarette ad today in the window of your neighborhood store? What are the chances that someone you love smokes? It’s not left up to chance—Big Tobacco has a plan.

The tobacco industry has been targeting minority communities for years, in Oregon and nationwide. Big Tobacco has set its sights on African-Americans, Latinos, the LGBTQ community and Native Americans, in particular, as well as people with less education and lower incomes, regardless of race or ethnicity.39

Studies have shown that tobacco companies sell their products in more stores, at deeper discounts, and place more ads in minority and low income neighborhoods, compared to wealthier, predominantly white neighborhoods. It is much harder to avoid tobacco when you see it everywhere.

These tactics
Are Working

African Americans in Oregon smoke at significantly higher rates than whites. What’s more, 35 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native adults in Oregon smoke commercial tobacco, compared to 21 percent of white adults.

Almost one in three Oregonians who make less than $15,000 per year smoke, compared to one in 10 who make more than $50,000 per year. And Oregonians with less than a high school education are four times more likely to smoke, compared to those with a college degree (31% vs. 8%).40

Big Tobacco’s targeting affects communities where people who want to quit have fewer resources to help them, and where people already experience higher rates of tobacco use, tobacco-related illness and death. The tobacco industry’s tactics deepen those differences, poisoning Oregon’s future one community at a time.

African Americans41

Starting in the 1970s, Big Tobacco latched onto the African-American community’s preference for menthol cigarettes and successfully linked it, most notably with the “Kool” brand, to themes of black empowerment and identity. They amplified the effect by saturating black magazines and neighborhoods with tailored ads that made smoking menthols seem integral to the black experience. Today, more than 70 percent of African-Americans who smoke buy menthols, compared to 30 percent of white people who smoke.

More recently, studies have documented that residents of African-American neighborhoods, especially those in lower-income areas, are still more likely to confront more tobacco ads at checkout than residents of more affluent white communities. Tobacco ads tend to be larger in size in black neighborhoods, to advertise products at lower prices, and to be located closer to schools.


Big Tobacco’s tactics extend to Latinos, encouraging them to equate smoking with their heritage by naming products “Rio” and “Dorado;” by a focused effort to sponsor Cinco de Mayo festivals, music shows, parades, fairs, rodeos and automobile races that Latinos frequently attend; and with financial support to community leaders and causes.42

LGBT Oregonians

In the LGBTQ community, Big Tobacco has manipulated cherished values—like freedom, choice, pride and a sense of belonging—to sell what they know is a deadly product. The tactics have paid off handsomely for the industry. In Oregon, gays, lesbians and bisexuals smoke at far higher rates than the heterosexual population. About 31 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual Oregon adults smoke cigarettes, compared to 18 percent of heterosexuals.43

Big Tobacco has been targeting the LGBTQ community for decades. In just one example from the mid-1990s, Benson & Hedges (a brand of Phillip Morris tobacco company) outlined its strategy “to capture brand loyalty” in the LGBTQ community by going “beyond advertising alone. Gay and lesbian consumers are looking beyond the ads. They are examining advertising creative for messages that signal ‘inclusion.’ They are looking for evidence that the brand or corporation supports their issues and concerns through contributions.” 44

Then and now, the industry has spent millions45 to insert itself into the LGBTQ community with financial support of events, media and organizations, a strategy that aims to make tobacco use a natural part of LGBTQ life.

For example, in Oregon, 29 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults say they’ve received tobacco coupons or other discounts through the mail or Internet—compared to 17 percent of heterosexuals. What’s more, 31 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual adults in Oregon say they’ve used a tobacco industry coupon or other price discount to buy products, compared to 15 percent of heterosexuals.46

Which of the following names were actual titles of tobacco industry initiatives to target minority communities?
Project SCUM - for 'Subculture Urban Marketing'
Ethnic Program Development
Black Marketing Task Force
All of the above


All of the above

The government forced tobacco companies to stop advertising cigarettes years ago.


Tobacco companies may no longer be allowed to advertise cigarettes on TV or billboards, but they are in our grocery and convenience stores, where kids are exposed to heavy tobacco advertising. In fact, the industry spends more on advertising now than they did before they were regulated, and nearly all of that (96 percent) occurs in stores. Each year, the industry spends $8 billion nationally—about $1 million per hour—for advertising and promotion in the retail environment.48

More than marketing

Big Tobacco’s targeting goes well beyond “good marketing.” Strategies such as tailoring ad content, price discounting and heavy advertising encourage people to start smoking and decrease the chances of success for people who are trying to quit. Flashy in-store promotional displays have been shown to trigger “impulse buys” of cigarettes, prompting purchases by people who didn’t intend to buy tobacco, and who may be trying to quit.47

We know that discrimination experienced by minorities in Oregon and nationally may make it easier for them to start smoking, and harder to quit. The tobacco industry’s aggressive marketing and promotion perpetuates tobacco use, more so within these targeted communities. These tactics threaten the lives of individual Oregonians, but they harm the health of our entire state.

It’s enough to make us all sick.