Philip Morris and Anheuser-Busch are among the companies cited by activist groups for their aggressive pursuit of minority customers.

“There is clear evidence that cigarette companies are targeting certain minority communities,” said Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and co-author of a study on cigarette advertising to African-American youth. “Disease is already a burden that’s higher in minority communities, so the fact that they’re aggressively being targeted is alarming.’

“Anheuser-Busch’s whole marketing campaign is basically a greeting call to African Americans,” said Jeffrey Hon, director for public information at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).

Activist groups aren’t letting this marketing blitz occur without a fight. INFACT, a national grassroots organization that promotes corporate accountability, has targeted Philip Morris as the industry leader in marketing to minorities, said Patti Lynn, associate campaign director of INFACT.

“The changes we can bring about in Philip Morris will have a ripple effect in the industry,” Lynn said.

INFACT is challenging the tobacco company’s targeting of minorities in its ad campaigns, Lynn said. By boycotting Philip Morris products, including the company’s Kraft products, INFACT hopes to make the company retract its advertising, Lynn said.

Women of color have been Marlboro Mild’s most recent target, Lynn said. “Companies see room for growth here – the smoking rates in minority communities are not as high as in white communities.”

According to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 38.6 percent of white high school students smoked in 1999, compared to 19.7 percent of African-American students.

Like any other company, Philip Morris tries to “make ads that appeal to a diverse group,” said Brendan McCormick, manager of media relations for Philip Morris. This means including African Americans, Latinos and women in marketing campaigns, he said.

“We’re not trying to increase the number of people who smoke,” McCormick said. “Within that shrinking market, we’re just trying to grow our share of the market at the expense of our competitors.”

Philip Morris has also been putting out Spanish-language advertisements for several years, McCormick said.

“If you look at Philip Morris’ efforts, you’ll see that we’ve been at the forefront of recognizing diversity in our workforce and marketing,” McCormick said.

Advertising to minorities makes good business sense, Siegel said. “What I find objectionable is that their product is deadly for everyone,” he said.

The study conducted by Siegel and Charles King, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, found that African-American youth are more likely to be receptive to tobacco ads in magazines.