September 04, 2006

America Online: Making a race issue where there isn't one

The AP reports today that [some] cigarette companies have increased the level of nicotine in their product:

The level of nicotine that smokers typically consume per cigarette has risen about 10 percent in the past six years, making it harder to quit and easier to get hooked, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Massachusetts Department of Health.

The study shows a steady climb in the amount of nicotine delivered to the lungs of smokers regardless of brand, with overall nicotine yields increasing by about 10 percent.

What's interesting about this story is that a search via the Associated Press main page yields the article with this paragraph:

The study found the three most popular cigarette brands with young smokers - Marlboro, Newport and Camel - delivered significantly more nicotine than they did six years ago. Nicotine consumed in Kool, a popular menthol brand, rose 20 percent, for example.

The same paragraph, utilized by America Online, is written thusly (emphasis mine):

The study found the three most popular cigarette brands with young smokers - Marlboro, Newport and Camel - delivered significantly more nicotine than they did years ago. Nicotine in Kool, a popular menthol brand, rose 20 percent. More than two-thirds of black smokers use menthol brands.

OK, fine. Perhaps this is a useful bit of information for African-American smokers. But AOL also "heightens the alert," so to speak, with racial scare tactics. It highlights the story on their main page with the omnious question "Are Black Smokers Being Targeted?"

Let's see ... this "targeting" is such a "story" that other AP outlets found the bit of info about black smokers prefering menthol cigarettes rather mundane, or, if you prefer, not very newsworthy. But not only does AOL include that info (which, again, in the article alone, isn't really a big deal), but it makes the leap to blacks being "the target" of these cigarette nicotine increases. The problem is ... the article offers no substantiation for this. Consider the information available in the AOL/AP article:

  • The level of nicotine found in U.S. cigarettes has risen about 10 percent in the past six years;
  • The study shows a steady climb in the amount of nicotine delivered to the lungs of smokers regardless of brand, with overall nicotine yields increasing by about 10 percent;
  • The study found the three most popular cigarette brands with young smokers - Marlboro, Newport and Camel - delivered significantly more nicotine than they did years ago;
  • Nicotine in Kool, a popular menthol brand, rose 20 percent;
  • More than two-thirds of black smokers use menthol brands.

If anything, the scare tactics AOL should have used are "Are Youth Being Targeted?" or "Are More Americans Becoming Addicted?" since the second and third items above surely appear more ominous (they cover a lot more people, that's for sure). Yet, despite the second item above noting a "climb in the amount of nicotine delivered to the lungs of smokers regardless of brand," AOL chose to highlight one particular brand (presumably popular with African-Americans) and then ask "Are Black Smokers Being Targeted?"

To which people may also wonder: Why target African-Americans? As a group, they are now the third-largest ethnicity in the country (behind whites and Hispanics). Wouldn't it make more economic sense for cigarette makers to go after the largest two groups? (The color companies care about most is green, after all.) It sure would -- and the AP article indicates just this: Again, "The study shows a steady climb in the amount of nicotine delivered to the lungs of smokers regardless of brand."

But AOL would rather contribute -- negatively, that is -- to American race relations.

In a slightly different matter, would the federal government either ban cigarettes outright -- or at the very least highly regulate them, like capping the amount of crap like nicotine that can go into the product? I'm weary of reading these "OH, GOSH!" types of articles that belittle people's common sense -- in this case, that smoking cigarettes is BAD for you. Read Hube's "eating breakfast post" to see what I mean.

Posted by Felix at September 4, 2006 11:51 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Come on now (cough) Hube, the tobacco companies are just providing a better (cough cough) product than they used to. Funny thing, it doesn't say "New and Improved, 10% More Nicotine!" on my Camels. You'd think they'd advertise that, like Extra-Strength Tylenol.

Posted by: G Rex at September 5, 2006 12:42 PM