As a Latina who cares about the health of my community, I am concerned that Big Tobacco has targeted us deliberately, and I need to speak out about it.
It apparently is not enough for the tobacco companies to spend $34 million a day and $42 for every person in the United States to persuade us to buy a product that causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and increases the risk of many other diseases, resulting in the deaths of more than 400,000 Americans each year. Big Tobacco evidently feels that it must also do the Latino community the favor of reaching out to us specifically, hoping that we will feel that smoking is a part of our identity.
One way they have done this is to create brand names that appeal to our heritage, such as Rio and Dorado. In addition, there has been a pattern of concentrated advertising at cultural festivals, in magazines, as well as financial support for Latino community leaders.
Philip Morris (recently renamed "Altria") is the leading cigarette manufacturer in the nation. In a "1994 Marlboro Hispanic Marketing Plan," the company identified the largest Cinco de Mayo events in the nation. Their promotions to these events lead to the collection of 90,000 new names for the corporation's direct mail databases.
Big Tobacco also has increased advertising in our local stores, often placing the ads at levels where our kids can clearly see them, and sponsored music shows, cultural festivals, parades, fairs, rodeos and automobile races that Latinos frequently attend. Tobacco companies have also provided financial support and recognition for our Latino community leaders, publishers, politicians, local chambers of commerce and organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens, which includes Altria as a member of its Corporate Alliance.
As badly as our community leaders and organizations need support, the danger of accepting money from tobacco companies is that it can encourage opposition to tobacco regulations, taxes and legislation that could protect our community's health.
Most recently, tobacco companies have been focusing their efforts on going to community events and bars to give away discount coupons for cigarettes in an effort to make it more difficult for the 70 percent of smokers who want to quit and to encourage young adults to start.
Research has shown male Mexican-Americans begin smoking after their 17th birthday while female Mexican-Americans begin smoking after their 20th birthday, which means that giveaways in bars can reach Latinas especially at a very vulnerable time.
Tobacco companies don't just target the Latino community. Tri-City Health Center in Fremont has a specific project to protect the LGBT population, which smokes twice as much as the general public.
The methods used by this project, called Butt Out of Our Bars could also be used by the Latino community to kick Big Tobacco out of our bars. Project staff encourages local bars to sign voluntary commitments to not allow tobacco giveaways or advertising on their property.
Smoking is not a part of my identity as a proud Latina, and I don't want it to be part of my friends' and family's lives, either. Let's all stand up to Big Tobacco and tell them to stop targeting us, so we can live healthier and more fulfilling lives.
Erika Calderon is with outreach health education at Tri-City Health Center in Fremont.