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Tobacco Companies Target Black Democrats Who Are Desperate For Campaign Cash


The saying that politics make strange bedfellows is being lived out in the current relationship between tobacco companies and Black Democratic candidates for political office. 

Tobacco use has devastated the Black community for years. African-American men have the highest rates of lung cancer in the U.S. Lung cancers are mostly caused by smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Yet, some of the major Black candidates running for office this election cycle have been accepting donations from tobacco companies. Reynolds American, the makers of Newport and Camel cigarette brands, has donated to 17 Democrats this year, more than two thirds of whom are Black members of Congress, according to data published by the Center for Responsive Politics in late September. The political action committee for Altria, which makes Marlboro, has donated to 37 Democratic lawmakers this cycle and 16 of those recipients — or 43 percent — are Black,  Stat News reported.

Rep. Donald McEachin represents the Richmond area of Virginia, where Altria is based, and he has received $46,750 from Altria and Reynolds American, according to Stat News. He also raked in $13,500 in donations from Altria and Reynolds’ political action committees.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), who opposes a proposed menthol ban, had $8,500 in donations from Reynolds’ PAC. Two Altria executives also gave Clarke personal checks totaling $3,900.

On April 28, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced two proposed rules, one to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and one to end the sale of flavored cigars. Menthol, a minty, throat-numbing flavor added to cigarettes, makes smoking more addictive and harder to quit.

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Interestingly, many of the lawmakers who received campaign donations have spoken out publicly against the menthol ban proposal, claiming that such a ban could lead to increased policing of Black smokers, who largely prefer menthol cigarettes.

“They want to buy politicians to keep menthol on the market,” said Phillip Gardiner, the co-chair African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, which has advocated for a menthol ban.

Some 85 percent of Black smokers use Newport, Kool and other menthol brands that are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than plain tobacco, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

But the ties between Black leaders and the tobacco industry isn’t new. In 2015, Mother Jones magazine did an article addressing this connection. The article, entitled “The Troubling History of Big Tobacco’s Cozy Ties With Black Leaders,” focused on the publication’s analysis of records from the Center for Responsive Politics that revealed in 2012 that half of all Black members of Congress at the time received financial support from North Carolina’s Lorillard Tobacco, as opposed to just one in 38 nonblack Democrats. Black lawmakers—all but one of whom are Democrats—were 19 times as likely as nonblack Democrats to get a donation from the cigaret company. Lorillard Tobacco Company was an American tobacco company that marketed cigarettes under the brand names Newport, Maverick, Old Gold, Kent, True, Satin, and Max, soon went out of business in 2014.

In 2019, there were questions as to why a major tobacco lobbyist was on the board of the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee (PAC).

Chaka Burgess, a co-managing partner of Empire Consulting Group (ECG), has been hired by Juul Labs to handle legislative and Food and Drug Administration regulatory efforts regarding e-cigarettes and vaping products. Problem is Burgess is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee (PAC).

For decades, cigarette makers have donated generously to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and to its affiliate, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation—not to mention the National Urban League, the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund, and many smaller African American groups, Mother Jones reported.

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