When it comes to diversity, the Rainbow State stands far above the rest, with nearly one-in-four residents (24%) identifying as multiracial.1 Our diverse makeup helps to foster aloha and a mutual regard; a compassion and affection that is felt and expressed among people from all walks of life.
Here in Hawai‘i, we embrace diversity because it is the foundation of our communities. But Big Tobacco preys on this diversity to deepen its pockets and further widen the economic and health burden of vulnerable populations.
Social inequities, especially economic disparities, are the perfect entry point for tobacco companies to insert their powerful and ugly hands – and they’re not even trying to hide it.
As the truth® Campaign puts it, “Tobacco use is not an equal-opportunity killer. Smoking disproportionately affects those most in need such as the poor, the homeless, racial minorities, LGBTQ persons and those suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders.”2
Decades of research affirm patterns of strategic marketing targeted toward many marginalized populations. For example:
• Visit a low-income neighborhood and you are likely to find tobacco retailers located closer to schools than they are in other, more affluent neighborhoods.3
• The density of tobacco shops and retailers is also often times much higher in poorer areas and locations with more ethnic and racial minorities.3
• On the mainland, neighborhoods that are predominantly African-American have 10 times – yes, TEN TIMES – more tobacco ads in these areas compared to other places.3
In the past, tobacco companies even coined African-Americans a “market priority.” Industry documents have revealed that Big Tobacco views blacks as having “low self-esteem,” thus making them even more attractive targets for self-destructive behavior.2
It’s not a coincidence; it’s profiling.
Just look at Native Hawaiians, LGBTQA, American Indians, African-Americans, Filipinos, and other Asian minorities – Virtually every single one of these populations uses tobacco at rates much higher than the general population.4
It’s become so blatant that some cities and states are taking the matter into their own hands – passing regulations to restrict the types of products Big Tobacco can push.
While Hawai‘i often leads the nation with groundbreaking laws that foster tobacco prevention and health, San Francisco and Oakland are battling the profiling issue head on with their recent moves to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes – all products that have been targeted to vulnerable populations.
Low-income residents. The LGBTQA Community. Individuals with mental health issues. Substance abuse problems. Youth. Ethnic and racial minorities. Where do they draw the line?
The answer is simple – Big Tobacco is never going to draw the line on targeting the most vulnerable populations if it means big profit for them. So we have to.
What can you do?
• You can help protect our neighborhoods from the influence of Big Tobacco and empower other communities by spreading the word about the industry’s harmful tactics.
• While their marketing may be obvious, it’s sometimes hard to see what’s right before our very eyes – are you the target of Big Tobacco? Think about your keiki and ‘ohana and how they may be vulnerable to the industry’s slick sell.
• Do not tolerate big businesses that hurt our neighbors and unique individuals and put profits over people; practices that take advantage of the diversity we celebrate should not stand. It’s time to put a stop to it. Empower yourself and those around you – with knowledge and support.
1 Pew Research Center. Hawaii is Home to the Nation’s Largest Share of Multiracial Americans. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/06/17/hawaii-is-home-to-the-nations-largest-share-of-multiracial-americans/). [accessed 2017 July 18].
2 Truth Initiative. Tobacco is a Social Justice Issue: Racial and Ethnic Minorities. (https://truthinitiative.org/news/tobacco-social-justice-issue-racial-and-ethnic-minorities). [accessed 2017 July 18].
3 Truth Initiative. #stopprofiling: Tobacco is a Social Justice Issue. (https://truthinitiative.org/news/tobacco-is-a-social-justice-issue). [accessed 2017 July 7].
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Consortium of National Networks to Impact Populations Experiencing Tobacco-Related and Cancer Health Disparities. (https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/about/coop-agreements/national-networks/index.htm target=”_blank”). [accessed 2017 July 28].