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Billion-Dollar Lawsuit Accuses Big Tobacco of Targeting Blacks


A Florida woman has filed a $1-billion lawsuit against four major tobacco companies, saying the firms negligently and fraudulently targeted blacks with their products, reported June 6.

Gloria Tucker, whose mother and grandmother both died of smoking-related illnesses, is suing Philip Morris USA, Lorillard Tobacco, R.J. Reynolds, and Liggett Group. “If I could, I'd try to have them charged with genocide,” said Tucker's lawyer, J.B. Harris. “There clearly was a racist bent in the tobacco companies' marketing. It was scientific, methodical and deliberate, and it was worse for African-Americans than for any other group.”

The lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, cites a trove of tobacco-industry documents dating from the 1950s to the 1990s, as well as the practice of placing large numbers of tobacco billboards in black neighborhoods, to back its claims. Harris said the documents reveal a pattern of “marketing by racial profiling.”

“Marketing to a specific segment of the population is a normal practice,” Harris said. “But the big difference is that these people were knowingly marketing poison.”

In a 1982 document quoted by Harris, R.J. Reynolds officials wrote: “Blacks tend to buy less things to improve themselves, they appear less concerned about health-related issues (i.e., blacks don't necessarily identify with the motivations of the “Concerned” and “Moderation” segments) and are more prone to buy on impulse. Blacks have less concern for the future and live from one day to the next. They buy products for instant gratification.” 

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