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Statement by the Communities of Color in the United States on Private Negotiations

Toward a Proposed "Settlement" with the Tobacco Industry
The Onyx Group
June 6th, 1997

Many individuals and organizations within communities of color in the United States are concerned about the content and form of negotiations that are currently underway between the tobacco industry and attorneys general and lawyers for victims of tobacco. Our specific concerns are three areas:

  1. As African Americans, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, Latinos, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives, we understand that tobacco use and abuse has impacted each of our communities differently and that the tobacco industry has deliberately targeted our communities in various ways. We are concerned that the issues currently being brokered do not fully address our concerns as racial groups, ethnicities and tribal nations. Our fear is that any settlement that is negotiated without our voices as part of the discussion and debate will continue to leave our communities vulnerable to the ravages of tobacco.

  2. With respect to the issues being negotiated by the Attorneys General, the major reason for the litigation is that public monies are being spent on health services to persons with illnesses caused by tobacco. A disproportionate number of the individuals who recieve Medicaid-funded health care are low-income and are from our racial, ethnic and tribal communities. We are concerned that a large monetary settlement will only shift the burden of payment from the general public to individual smokers as tobacco companies raise prices on their addictive products to pay the settlement costs. This has the potential to victimize low-income smokers disproportionately, while allowing the investors in tobacco to realize enormous financial rewards by "immunizing" tobacco companies from many of the costs of further litigation. There must be a balance struck so that poor people and people of color, who are most likely to pay the higher costs of such a settlement through increased prices, also receive significant and measurable benefits from any agreement.

  3. In some news stories, there have been references to a proposed "global" settlement. The only thing that is "global" is that these negotiations give the tobacco industry a way to effectively rid itself of liabilities in the United States, while at the same time, companies can continue to market their addictive tobacco products in other parts of the world -- especially in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Islands of the Pacific. As people of color, we have links to our brothers and sisters worldwide. Some of our communities have large immigrant populations taht are doubly impacted by the tobacco industry's targeted marketing practices here in the United States and in their home countries abroad. We do not view an increased international trafficking of tobacco addiction as a legitimate trade off in return for tougher sanctions on advertising and marketing to youth in the United States. All youth are important and all youth must be protected from tobacco marketing practices -- in the United States and throughout the world.

These are our specific concerns, and in addition to the basic core principals that have been articulated by other organizations such as the aAttorneys General Working Group and the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids. But beyond the concerns addressed in this statement looms the larger issue of principle. As communities of color, we believe strongly in the process of concensus, inclusion, oppeness, and fairness. Back room negotiations toward a possible "settlement" have an air of secrecy and deception -- which is in keeping with the history of the tobacco industry in this country. We oppose the clandestine nature of these discussions.

We are not asking that a few representatives of our communities be allowed to enter these closed meetings. Instead, we are joining our voices together with others to ask that all secret negotiations designed to cut a "deal" with the tobacco industry end immediately. These issues must be brought into the light of public disclosure and debate so that all those who are touched by tobacco can have their concerns acknowledged and addressed. We urge the public to speak out on this important issue and let all those who are part of these secret meetings -- especially the individuals who are elected public officialsknow how the public feels.

As people of color, we will continue to raise our voices and to express our concerns. No one else can speak for us on the critical matter of abusive sales and marketing of tobacco in all communities and especially in communities of color.

For more information, contact:
The Onyx Group
P.O. Box 60
Balacynwyd, PA 19004
Tel: 610-617-9971, Email: onyxgroup@msn.com