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Anti-Smoking Ads Call Out the Racial Profiling Used by Big Tobacco

Did you know that tobacco companies tend to advertise up to ten times more in black neighborhoods? It’s this fact and a few others that are driving Truth’s new ad campaign.

You probably remember the Truth anti-smoking PSAs of years past – which usually stuck to the Reaganite “just say no” method of preventing teenagers from getting hooked on cigarettes. But these days Truth is reaching beyond the tired D.A.R.E.-style messaging and are focusing more on the social justice issues behind smoking.
Amanda Seals Calls Out Big Tobacco for Racial Profiling…

Truth teamed up with Insecure and Greatest Ever’s Amanda Seals call out big tobacco’s not-so-subtle racial profiling in their advertising choices. In the ad, we follow Seals through neighborhoods in Washington D.C., where she interviews residents in a traditional man-on-the-street fashion.

“Big Tobacco must love diversity,” she sarcastically starts. “They must love it so much,” she continues from the corner of a black D.C. neighborhood, “that here, they advertise up to ten times more in black neighborhoods than in other neighborhoods.” That fact is echoed by the second ad in the series, which points out that in black neighborhoods, tobacco retailers are much more likely to be located close to schools.

“How is that O.K.?” she asks. “IT’S NOT” flashes across the screen.

“Big Tobacco is really trying to be friends with black folks… I see you,” she continues. “So much so that in the past, they called us a ‘market priority.’ It’s not a coincidence, it’s profiling. Don’t let it go unseen.”

How Smoking Became a Social Justice Issue

In an interview with Essence, Seals explained why she wanted to join up with Truth to shine a light on the shady sales tactics employed by Big Tobacco. “I honestly was just generally frustrated at the continued efforts I feel like are put in place to harm the Black community in a deleterious way,” she said. “It was just another element that I honestly didn’t know about. It was very surprising that I didn’t know about it. That was actually the most shocking part, like ‘How did I not know about this,’ Because the numbers are just staggering, which is of course what made me say ‘I need to be a part of this, if I can be.’”

Ads like this might have been hard for Truth to make in the 90s when the advocacy group was most active. But conversations about topics like institutional racism have been forced into the spotlight much more in the past few years – driven in part by the fresh resistance style of Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements that are mainly pushed by millennials.

In comparison to other generations, many studies show that millennials are less likely to take up smoking – a positive outcome for the “just say no” mentality than many millennials grew up with.

On the other hand, that just makes Big Tobacco get more creative. Investigations into the same studies that show smoking rates down for millennials, also have bad news – social smoking skews the data, for one.

So maybe by turning smoking into a social justice issue, Truth will be able to get a head start stomping out social smoking – especially among social justice-minded millennials.

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