Carol McGruder



C.U.S. Articles
Cancer, Cancer #9 | Nigeria Sues Big Tobacco | ORIGINAL …GANGSTAS Men in Suits!

Carol O. McGruder
Text Box:  “Pssssst…hey would you like to try my wares. It will make you feel good. Oh no, it’s free. No charge.  Try it, and, if you like it, you know where to find me…” This has been the opening recruitment lure of drug dealers for time immemorial.  Drug dealers know the odds. They know that a few free samples judiciously given out will yield them a high return on their investment--eventually transforming the young, the curious, and the foolish into long-term addicted customers. 
When we think about drug sellers, dealers, or pushers, our minds drift to images of young African American men hustling on street corners or the stereotypical tough faces of Columbian drug cartel bosses or perhaps Tony Soprano and his aging mafia gang.  We envision gangsters as people capable of great violence and mayhem, who fascinate us while giving us pause and a certain uneasiness.  Rarely do we think of middle-aged respectable men in suits as gangsters.  Such men live in exclusive zip codes, chair civic committees, and play golf at country clubs--men who, for all outward appearances, are upstanding members of society.  Yet these very men sit dispassionately in boardrooms across America divvying up their empires and deciding the who, where, and when of how they will attract and keep their customers addicted to deadly nicotine.  And, though they don’t fit the prototype, “original straight-up gangstas” they are, and they could give Tony Soprano and his boys a few lessons on how it’s really done. 
At least that is what Judge Gladys Kessler of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled last year when she rendered her verdict finding Philip Morris (Altria), R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., British American Tobacco Ltd., Lorillard Tobacco Co., and Counsel for Tobacco Research-U.S.A. guilty of federal racketeering.  In her 1,653 page ruling, Judge Kessler wrote that the, “defendants have marketed and sold their lethal products with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted.”  She states further, “The evidence clearly establishes that the Defendants have not ceased engaging in unlawful activity…” 
     Though these gangsta’s don’t stand on street corners or in alleyways they still know the power and lure of free samples.  You can find them in some of our chic San Francisco nightclubs.  They don’t come in person of course.  They send a stable of pretty young ladies to ply their trade, young ladies (and one or two good looking fellas) who distribute free packs of cigarettes.  Tobacco company protocol requires that the sweet young things inquire about your current smoking status. After all they are not trying to lure “new” smokers, heaven forbid.  They are only interested in servicing the currently addicted.  At least that is the official company line they give when they invite you into swank “lounges” that they set up in nightclubs on their tobacco industry sponsored bar nights.  They swipe your ID (obtaining personal information) and sign you up for future promotional items that are mailed out at regular intervals just to let you know how much they appreciate your business (Hey Tony Soprano, you listening?  You don’t have to steal personal information.  You can trade it for a pack of smokes).
     Perhaps because free tobacco sampling has been outlawed in most Bay Area cities, the makers of Camels and Kools cigarettes have been working the San Francisco nightclub scene that much harder.  It is one of the final frontiers in the tobacco prevention war.  They are showing up here, there, and everywhere.  But what are tobacco giants to do when they can’t market to children anymore?  I guess young adults will just have to do!

Carol McGruder, (cmcgruder@usa.net) is the Project Director of Communities Under Siege (C.U.S.)/United Against The Globalization of Big Tobacco