Cigs have no bias; they harm equally
Judge dismisses discrimination suit
Big tobacco hasn't violated federal anti-discrimination laws by saturating the African-American community with ads promoting menthol cigarettes, a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled yesterday.
Laws banning racial discrimination don't prohibit such advertising, U.S. District Judge John R. Padova ruled.
A local minister and others claimed that such "intensive" advertising adversely affects blacks, "who are dying at greater rates" than whites because of smoking menthol products.
But the judge found that cigarette manufacturers sell the same menthol products to both blacks and whites, and that blacks "comprise the minority of users of mentholated tobacco products."
Stephen A. Sheller, a Philadelphia lawyer who filed the suit, was unsure yesterday if the ruling will be appealed but criticized the judge's legal rationale.
"It sends a message that money is more important than life or death," Sheller asserted.
The suit was filed last year by the Rev. Jesse Brown and other members of the Uptown Coalition for Tobacco Control, and by the National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery, a national group.
The defendants included the major cigarette makers, their lobbyists, and a public relations firm.
The suit alleged that millions of dollars are spent each year "on advertising designed exclusively to appeal to African-Americans."
The ads, featuring black models, run in black-oriented magazines and newspapers and on billboards in black neighborhoods, and often target the young, the plaintiffs complained.
Philadelphia lawyer Jeffrey G. Weil, who argued the case for the tobacco companies, said the companies sell "a lawful product. . .on the same terms to blacks and whites alike."