case study

Standing Up to Tobacco Companies: Supporting a Ban on Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars


The Challenge

For decades, the tobacco industry has targeted Black communities, LGBTQ+ communities, kids and others with menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, putting them on the path to a lifetime of nicotine addiction, serious illness and premature death, while profiting at the expense of lives and health. Tobacco companies have thrived on a racist business model that relentlessly markets and sells menthol cigarettes in Black communities and hides the health dangers associated with these products. When flavored cigarettes (other than menthol) were banned in 2009, tobacco companies quickly pivoted and rolled out flavored cigars. The tactics worked: sales of flavored cigars and youth cigar use increased, especially among Black youth and young adults. In 2020, over half a million youth in the U.S. had used flavored cigars in the previous 30 days.

Our Approach

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the authority and the evidence base to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored tobaccos. In summer 2022, FDA issued two proposed rules to remove menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the marketplace. Burness worked with the American Heart Association to launch a comprehensive creative and communications campaign to drive comments to FDA in support of the rule. This included:

  • Developing a creative concept and messaging frame that resonated with grassroots and policy audiences.
  • Launching a six-figure, multi-platform digital advertising campaign, including activations with major national news outlets.
  • Writing national and local op-eds and elevating spokespeople.
  • Sharing stories.

Results and Impact

Our efforts culminated in substantial earned media coverage including placements in NBC BLK, the Detroit News and the Raleigh News and Observer; a takeover on Politico’s healthcare section; and social media advertising tactics driving more than 8 million impressions of our campaign messaging and thousands of comments to FDA. Our work is not finished: we will support AHA’s efforts to apply pressure to FDA to finalize the regulations, including the release of videos and additional media and advertising efforts.

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