Within the realms of hip-hop music, references made to smoking (both legal and illegal substances) are legion.
The connection to such activities has been associated with hip-hop culture since its inception during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when many urban communities in America were besieged with ubiquitous crime and a then burgeoning crack epidemic.
But social activism is just as traditional in hip-hop as personal and community hardship. Many emcees, both mainstream and otherwise, express the need for living a good, clean life free from addictive behaviors, and encourage utilizing clever verses and polyrhythms to communicate to the masses.
Detroit-based hip-hop spoken word and recording artist Michael “Mike E” Ellison in collaboration with the American Cancer Society seeks to advocate education about the harmful effects of tobacco use on self and community.
“It is not a preachy thing or holier-than-thou message,” said Ellison. “I understand why the habit is so addictive. That’s why I don’t attack the victim, I attack the industry.”
Ellison maintains that through his examination of the tobacco industry, he discovered that it has a legacy that contradicts many workers and human rights.
“When I started doing research on the industry,” said Ellison, “I realized the long extensive roots of slave labor, free labor, forced labor and cheap labor along with the disproportionate advertising that is aimed at economically disenfranchised people, not just Black folk.”
Due to his research of tobacco companies, he found out some of their time proven methods to expand their demographic.
“A lot has been said about the disproportionate advertising in our neighborhoods and throughout the country,” he said. “They are aiming for Black children, White children, Latino children, Asian children and adults. I say children because they do some slick things to introduce them to tobacco. The industry unofficially calls children their replacement smokers. That’s sinister. We have half a million people dying from your product, scores of others who are sick with ailments that will lead to death, the companies feel that they constantly have to replace those consumers.”
Hip Hop advocate Mike E of AfroFlow
His partnership with the American Cancer Society began when a representative from ACS caught a performance by the hip-hop band AfroFlow (fronted by Ellison). The representative was confident that Ellison’s message would pair well with the American Cancer Society.
“Though it is not the official stance of the American Cancer Society,” said Ellison. “It is however my opinion that the smoking industry is fully engaged in legalized genocide.”
The statistics from the ACS on secondhand smoke are dire indeed:
• Over 50,000 nonsmokers die from secondhand smoke annually, including 3,000 from Michigan
• Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work, increase their risk of getting heart disease by 25 percent.
Using statistics like these has been a motivation for the ACS to move ahead with their anti-smoking legislation.
“In Michigan, we are trying to pass a smoke-free legislation bill,” said Corinne Petras, communications specialist for the ACS. “We have been working on that for a long time. The problem is in the city of Detroit, the casinos are holding that up.”