Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette

Nov 17, 2021, 6:00 pm7:30 pm
Labyrinth Books Princeton (virtual option available)
Labyrinth Books
Public / Open To All
Event Description

Spanning a century, Pushing Cool reveals how the twin deceptions of health and Black affinity for menthol were crafted and how the industrys disturbingly powerful narrative has endured to this day. We invite you to a discussion.

This is a hybrid event held at Labyrinth. To register for the live-stream, click here.

Police put Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold for selling cigarettes on a New York City street corner. George Floyd was killed by police outside a store in Minneapolis known as "the best place to buy menthols." Black smokers overwhelmingly prefer menthol brands such as Kool, Salem, and Newport. All of this is no coincidence. The disproportionate Black deaths and cries of I cant breathe that ring out in our erabecause of police violence, COVID-19, or menthol smokingare intimately connected to a post-1960s history of race and exploitation.

In Pushing Cool, Keith Wailoo tells the intricate and poignant story of menthol cigarettes for the first time. He pulls back the curtain to reveal the hidden persuaders who shaped menthol buying habits and racial markets across America: the world of tobacco marketers, consultants, psychologists, and social scientists, as well as Black lawmakers and civic groups including the NAACP. Today most Black smokers buy menthols, and calls to prohibit their circulation hinge on a history of the industrys targeted racial marketing. In 2009, when Congress banned flavored cigarettes as criminal enticements to encourage youth smoking, menthol cigarettes were also slated to be banned. Through a detailed study of internal tobacco industry documents, Wailoo exposes why they werent and how they remain so popular with Black smokers.

Keith Wailoo is Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University. His books include Dying in the City of the BluesHow Cancer Crossed the Color Line, and Pain: A Political History. Along with Dr. Anthony Fauci and others, he won the 2021 Dan David Prize. Ruha Benjamin is professor of African American studies at Princeton University and the founding director of the Ida B. Wells Just Data Lab. She is the author of Peoples Science and Race after Technology, and is currently working on Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want.

Event Type
In Conversation
Event Category
AAS Recommended Events


Any individual, including visitors to campus, who requires an accommodation should contact Dionne Worthy (dworthy@princeton.edu) at least one week in advance of the event.