Same Game Different Smokers Takes a Look at Tobacco Industry’s Footprint on Black Lives, Black Lungs

Last week, The Post published a story from California Black Media about a movement in San Francisco and other cities across the country to ban vaping and flavored tobacco products designed to appeal to young people, including mentholated tobacco products. It is known that menthol tobacco products are popular in the Black community and, because of health disparities and access to treatment, create a higher rate of death due to smoking. The Post is folowing up with this story about an exhibit.

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The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the San Francisco Public Library’s African American Center are presenting the exhibition “Same Game, Different Smokers” beginning Saturday Dec. 7, at the San Francisco Main Library.

Curated by Tracy Brown, AATCLC project manager and a renowned  visual artist in her own right, “Same Game Different Smokers” is an exploration of the troubling relationship the tobacco industry has had with the Black community over the last 400-plus years. A collection of archival advertisements and images are brought together to answer some extremely important questions.

This exhibition seeks to illustrate the history of the tobacco industry’s targeting of the African American community with strategic advertisement placement, product distribution events, and divisive messaging. The majority of the images are pulled from the Tobacco Control Archives of vintage advertisements and artifacts.

Vintage ads of African Americans associated with tobacco products from the 1800s and 2007.

The exhibition begins with information about sacred tobacco and shows how tobacco strayed away from its spiritual roots, Brown said in a statement. It then shares the role that Europe’s demand for tobacco played in the creation of the Atlantic Slave Trade and how tobacco advertising evolved once the African American community became a target market.

Brown uses tobacco industry documents recovered from companies like Phillip Morris to show discussions between industry executives suggesting that menthol cigarettes be marketed to the Black community as well as stated planning to launch their now infamous aggressive marketing campaigns in publications like Ebony and Jet.

She also works to show that the tactics and narratives being used by e-cigarette companies like Juul are being taken directly from the nicotine addiction industry playbook.

To Brown, it is important that all people, especially those who are subject to constant targeting be shown what tactics are being used to influence the decisions they make.

Formed in 2008, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) partners with community stakeholders, elected officials, and public health agencies to inform the national direction of tobacco control policy, practices, and priorities, as they affect the lives of Black American and African immigrant populations. The AATCLC has been at the forefront of elevating the regulation of mentholated and other flavored tobacco products on the national tobacco control agenda.

The opening event will feature presentations by Ohlone Sisters Desiree and Carla Marie Munoz, who are representatives of the Costanoan Rumsen Ohlone Tribe, the indigenous people of the Central California Coastal area. Awon Ohun Omnira (Voices of Freedom) will sing a litany of songs in the Yoruba language for the ancestors in homage to Black lives lost working in the tobacco fields during the slave era and  to diseases caused by or exacerbated by smoking.

Naomi Jelks, director of the African American Center at the San Francisco Main Library, the AATCLC Squad including Dr. Phillip Gardiner, Carol McGruder and Dr. Val Yerger will be on hand.

A mobile mural by Aerosoul Arts with the theme “Emancipate yourself from menthol slavery” will be on view during the exhibition opening.

“It is my goal to ensure that the African American community is not left out of the conversation around how to address the use of flavored tobacco products to target children and other strategic populations,” Brown said. “(About) 45,000 African Americans die from tobacco-related illnesses every day. This exhibition allows me to use my talents as an artist and a curator to try to bring that number down to zero.”

“Same Game Different Smokers” runs from Dec. 7, 2019 – Feb. 6, 2020, at the San Francisco Public Library, from 2-3:00 p.m. in the foyer of the library.

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