African-American Organizations Faces Obstacles to Rejecting Tobacco Industry Support

Conference on sustaining African-American organizations without tobacco industry support

From 1995 to 1997, Morse Enterprises, Inc., a Silver Spring, Md., consulting firm organized a series of three, day-long invitational conferences to raise the issue of tobacco divestment among African-American leaders — whether African-American organizations should withdraw their interest in tobacco stock and otherwise reject financial support, promotion, or marketing from the tobacco industry.

Sponsored by the National Smoking Cessation Campaign for African American Women (renamed in 1997 the National Tobacco Independence Campaign), the series of conferences involved 56 African-American leaders drawn mainly from the political, medical, academic, and social welfare fields; some attended all three meetings.

Participants engaged in frank, off-the-record discussions of the divestiture issue with assurances that their names would not be publicly released.

Key Results

A majority of the conferees considered divestiture a worthwhile long-term goal but deemed such a policy shift unfeasible for most organizations at the time given the continued and significant dependence of many organizations on tobacco-related funds. The conferees noted:

  • Silence on the part of African-American organizations regarding the health consequences of tobacco is the result of several factors.
  • The desirability of pursuing divestment in the future depends on further investigation into the merits of such a policy and the ability of African-American organizations to carry it out.
  • Of paramount concern in severing this relationship would be identifying and securing commensurate, replacement funds.
  • The adoption of a widespread divestment policy among African-American organizations would require a significant education effort clearly demonstrating how the health consequences of tobacco use outweigh the legality of its use.
  • Tobacco-control advocates and health professionals need to better understand and use the black media to educate African-American organizations about the hazards of tobacco and its health consequences among their constituents.


The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported the effort with a grant of $59,101 between November 1995 and March 1997.

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