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Two Health Notes from the National Folk Festival

September 11, 2011

BeauSoleil performing at the National Folk Festival 2011


Last weekend, I attended the National Folk Festival in Nashville, TN, where it will be hosted for two additional years. I truly enjoyed the event, seeing and hearing music performed by old time, mariachi, Kurdish, Japanese, breakdance, cajun, New Orleans jazz, and other bands, along with the Fisk Jubilee Singers and Lloyd Arneach (a Cherokee storyteller). I heard good music, had good (festival) food, and had an excellent time.

That said, two health-related items came to my attention. First, I would like to suggest that first aid folks at outdoor events add extra sunscreen to their supplies. Overheating and dehydration is an obvious concern at an outdoor festival, but sunburn is another, if less acute, health hazard. I stopped by the first aid tent to see if they had any sunscreen after I’d been outside for a few hours and realized I needed more protection. I should have brought my own as well on that 100 degree sunny day, but I think making it available for people to reapply at day-long events is a good idea. The person I talked to at the tent seemed to think so, too.

photo of Don Vappie & The Creole Jazz Serenaders from the National Folk Festival 2011

Don Vappie & The Creole Jazz Serenaders

Second, while festival sponsors seemed to be mostly arts/culture organizations, local radio, lawyers, banks, and so on – the mix you’d expect – one tent in particular was sponsored by Altria, and visibly marked with numerous sponsorship signs listing Philip Morris, Smokeless Tobacco, et al. That tent was the Jefferson Street tent.

For those who don’t know Nashville, Jefferson Street is a historically Black part of town. It runs past Meharry Medical College and Fisk University, then TSU, all HCBUs. It’s home to an annual jazz and blues festival. This page from the Jefferson Street Merchants provides a brief history of the area, further emphasizing the close association between this part of Nashville and our city’s Black population. The Jefferson Street stage was the closest at the festival to Jefferson Street itself by a long shot.

Well, so what? Black and white Americans smoke about the same rate, but Black smokers are a greater risk of lung cancer and suffer disproportionately from smoking-related adverse health effects. Tobacco companies have also targeted their advertising to Black communities, attempting to recruit more of these smokers – one study found “2.6 times more tobacco advertisements per person in areas with an African American majority compared to white-majority areas.” As the American Lung Association explains:

African American communities have been bombarded with cigarette advertising. Since the signing of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in 1998 through 2005, the average youth in the United States is annually exposed to 559 tobacco ads, every adult female 617 advertisements, and every African American adult 892 ads. Money spent on magazine advertising of mentholated cigarettes, popular with African Americans, increased from 13 percent of total ad expenditures in 1998 to 49 percent in 2005.

The former Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company (now part of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company) ran a campaign for Kool cigarettes aimed at black youths in 2006 that featured hip-hop DJ competitions, themed cigarette packs, and was billed as a “celebration” of hip-hop music and culture.

Long story short, having the “Jefferson Street” stage visibly sponsored by big tobacco was unseemly and gross, in the context of both the location and the deliberate targeting of Black communities to encourage smoking.

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