A Philadelphia pastor who grew up in a Greensboro public housing project helped block R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s plans to test market a cigarette targeted at urban blacks.
The Rev. Jesse W. Brown is president of Philadelphia's Committee to Prevent Cancer Among Blacks, part of a coalition of about 30 Philadelphia religious, health and black groups which organized to fight the Winston-Salem company's Uptown cigarette.AIDS, crime and drugs have taken a heavy toll among blacks, and for Reynolds to seek out a better way to sell them cigarettes was irresponsible, Brown contends.
Black men have a 58 percent higher incidence of lung cancer than white men, according to the U.S. Public Health Service. And compared to whites, blacks lose twice as many years of life because of smoking-related diseases.
Brown, 33, says his efforts reflect increased awareness about health among blacks.
``The whole health issue in the black community is becoming a major question and people are rising up and doing something about it,' he said in a telephone interview Thursday. ``We have for too long not dealt with the health issue. But I don't think that's going to be the case in the future.'
Brown thinks Reynolds' decision to cancel the test in Philadelphia - a hotbed of activism - sends a message to cigarette makers.
``They now have to rethink their whole advertising and marketing program relative to niche marketing,' he said. ``They're putting a bounty on the heads of those people they're targeting in their marketing.'
Reynolds officials have conceded that their overt strategy in selling Uptown to blacks may have been flawed.
``Maybe in retrospect we would have been better off not saying we were marketing to blacks. But those were the smokers we were going after, so why shouldn't we be honest about it?' said David B. Fishel.
The Greensboro chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People does not support Brown's efforts.
``We haven't taken a position,' said David M. Dansby, president of the Greensboro branch of the NAACP. ``Most of the (NAACP) people opposed the Greensboro ordinance imposing restrictions on smoking (in restaurants and large retail stores). We have maintained a real good relationship with the tobacco workers union, so we'll probably stay neutral on this.'
Brown grew up in Greensboro's Ray Warren public housing project, not far from the Lorillard cigarette manufacturing plant. His anger toward cigarette manufacturers is not limited to Reynolds' Uptown effort.
``We ought to be looking for and promoting a smoke-free society and a future without cigarettes,' he said.
A graduate of Grimsley High School and Concordia College in Bronxville, N.Y., Brown worked for the Greensboro Human Relations Commission as a complaint investigator and researcher. In 1981 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Greensboro City Council.
Brown left Greensboro in 1983 to attend the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. After graduating with a master of divinity degree, he became pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in north Philadelphia.
Brown's stand against cigarettes doesn't surprise his father, who saw his son on CBS News last week.
``That's not strange for him. He's always been involved. He believes in helping people. He'd rather help somebody than help himself,' said Jesse W. Brown Sr., who lives on Glenhaven Drive in southeastern Greensboro.
The senior Brown, 62, a supervisor for a local construction company, quit smoking five years ago after his grandchildren asked him to stop.
The pastor believes blacks realize health dangers associated with cigarettes, but said ``the black community is besieged by a whole host of problems. When you're in a survival mode you're not always able to focus your energies in a particular area.
Brown said the Philadelphia group has been educating the black community on behavior attitudes that prevent us from getting cancer related health care. He said the group would also be looking into the cigarette industry's practices of billboard advertising and handing out free cigarettes on the streets.