Tobacco Lawsuit Targets Cigarette Giveaways In Black Neighborhoods

Opening statements are scheduled today in a <"">wrongful death lawsuit against tobacco giant, Lorillard, the third largest tobacco company in the United States, said the Associated Press (AP). The suit was filed by the son of a woman who allegedly received free cigarettes as a child in a supposed attempt by the tobacco maker to entice black children to become smokers, said the AP.

Willie Nelson alleges that Lorillard used illegal marketing to get his mother, Marie—who was nine years old at the time—to smoke Newport cigarettes, forming an addiction she battled her entire life, said the AP. The lawsuit is scheduled at the Suffolk Superior Court.

Prior to her death, Marie testified in depositions that she was nine when she was first given free cigarettes, which she initially traded for candy; she began smoking when she was 13 and died 40 years later of lung cancer, said the AP. When Marie was receiving her free samples in Boston, Massachusetts state law prohibited such acts, said the AP, noting that Lorillard broke the law in its attempts to create new smokers. According to the lawsuit, the program was “designed to attract African-American children and teenagers and to place cigarettes in their hands,” said the lawsuit, quoted the AP.

Lorillard maintains that nothing exists to prove that Evans received cigarettes, wrote the AP.

Despite this, Evans described receiving free sample packs of Newports in or near the Orchard Park housing complex where she received the samples between 25 and 50 times from a “Newport van,” according to her deposition, said the AP.

“At no time during any of these giveaway events did any Lorillard agent and/or representative refuse to give Marie Evans samples of Newport cigarettes because of her age,” her son’s lawsuit states, reported the AP. “She started smoking Newport cigarettes, in part, because she had access to them at no cost on a frequent basis through the Newport cigarette giveaway events conducted by Lorillard,” Willie added, quoted the AP

Attorneys for the cigarette maker claim Lorillard should be held harmless for any damage to Evans’ health after 1969 when Congress mandated warning labels on cigarette packages, noted the AP. In 1984, Evans suffered a heart attack, believed to be linked to her smoking, said the AP. Lorillard claims the lawsuit should have been filed within three years of that event to be within statute of limitations, added the AP.

According to Doug Blanke, executive director of the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, which is, said the AP, “a national network of legal centers supporting the tobacco-control movement,” the tobacco industry has long marketed to black minorities.” You don’t have to be a research expert to look at the history of advertising, which has always featured African-American models, so you know that community is targeted,” Blanke said, quoted the AP.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in America, with cigarettes linked to some 443,000 deaths and $100 billion spent in healthcare costs annually. Menthol cigarettes, said CNN previously, account for about 25 percent of all the cigarettes sold in the United States and—along with all flavored cigarettes—have been under examination by health officials and watchdog groups over claims that the menthol flavor makes cigarettes more addictive and that marketing campaigns are targeting minorities.

As a matter-of-fact, a study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, most—about three-quarters—of all African-American smokers prefer menthol cigarettes, wrote CNN. Regardless, Leonard Jones, director of marketing at Lorillard Tobacco Company, previously argued that “ethnicity does not play a role” in how it markets Newport menthol cigarettes, quoted CNN.

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