In our last issue, we ran an article by Aubry Stone, president/CEO of the California Black Chamber of Commerce, opposing Proposition 29, which would impose a $1 tax on each pack of cigarettes in the name of cancer research. The following article rebuts Stone’s position.
By Carol McGruder and Dr. Phillip Gardiner
African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council

Yes, Mr. Stone it is that time of year again–election time. That means it is time for those like yourself who do the bidding of the tobacco industry to step up and earn your keep. Your relationship and that of the California Black Chamber of Commerce (CBCC) to the tobacco industry is documented in the previously secret internal industry documents that were released during tobacco litigation.

While the tobacco industry has been very, very good to the CBCC, so much so that the Altria (Philip Morris) logo is proudly displayed as a corporate sponsor on the CBCC website, your close corporate buddies are responsible for the deaths of the 47,300 Black folks who die from tobacco-related diseases every year. That number doesn’t take into account those who die from secondhand smoke or their children who have the highest asthma rates, or those who suffer from having a poor quality of life before dying.

Mr. Stone, you know good and well (or at least you should know) that tobacco companies are federally adjudicated racketeers who lie to Congress, buy off elected officials, and perniciously prey on our communities. Those bloodsuckers would probably wither and die if they actually came out in the light of day. But why should they come out from under the rocks when they can pay others like you to do their heavy-lifting?

As you stated, California’s airwaves and mailboxes are full this time of year, but they are full thanks to the tens of millions of disinformation dollars that the tobacco industry is dumping here to defeat Proposition 29. Statistics show that the truth about Proposition 29 is that raising the cost of cigarettes by a dollar a pack will save lives, keep our kids from smoking, generate $550 million for cancer research, $150 million for tobacco prevention and cessation, and without costing the state anything it will actually save California taxpayers $5.1 billion dollars in long-term healthcare costs.

Mr. Stone, your false arguments have little to do with the real issues. Proposition 29–the California Cancer Research Act, as the name implies, is about cancer research. Over 160,000 African Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in this year alone. That’s 160,000 Black men and women! Whether it is from breast, prostate, or lung cancer, African Americans are profoundly affected by cancer in ways that other racial/ethnic groups are not.

African American women under 45 are at greater risk for triple negative breast cancer, which is the most aggressive type of breast cancer and the hardest to cure. Though more White women get breast cancer, more Black women die from it; and even more Black women die from lung cancer, though there is greater media coverage of breast cancer. The death rate for prostate cancer is 2.4 times higher in African American men than in White men. Who among us has not been profoundly touched by cancer? We need research!

Instead of lending your voice to help set a relevant cancer research agenda, you are instead aiding and abetting the tobacco industry as it continues to blow its toxic smoke screen. In your letter you state that you’re concerned about health disparities. Puh-leeze! Your cow-towing to the tobacco industry says otherwise: It is precisely the predatory marketing of tobacco products specifically in our communities that drives these health disparities in the first place.

Tobacco-related diseases kill more Blacks than AIDS, violence, and other non-tobacco-related-cancers combined. Being faced with these facts the tobacco industry buys silence and complicity by throwing us a few crumbs of lobbying dollars, campaign contributions, and scholarships, all the while continuing to rake in billions of dollars of profits. Billions of dollars in profits that, by the way, leave our state.

The research funding for Proposition 29 will stay in California and it will be administered by the University of California chancellors, cancer care center directors, and other stakeholders who will not, as you claim, receive six-figure salaries. They will not receive anything because these are non-paid positions.

You incorrectly state that none of this funding will go to our needy schools when in fact over $29 million dollars will be allocated to the California Department of Education for programs to prevent and reduce the use of tobacco products. Perhaps this funding will be used to educate students about a recently released Stanford study documenting that in neighborhoods with higher percentages of underage African American high school students, the price of menthol cigarettes goes down and the amount of advertising goes up. This funding can also stop our children from becoming orphans by keeping their parents and grandparents from dying prematurely from tobacco related diseases.

Mr. Stone, Proposition 29 is about saving lives. Proposition 29 is about preventing and curing cancer. Proposition 29 is about preventing our children from smoking and helping adults to quit smoking. We urge all Californians to Vote Yes on 29.

Carol McGruder and Dr. Phillip Gardiner are co-chairs of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. The AATCLC has more than 150 years of tobacco control experience in public policy, research, prevention, community capacity building and cessation.

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