Photo by Fried Dough.

Big Tobacco agreed way back in 1998 to stop marketing [PDF] cigarettes to kids. Turns out cigarette companies are still up to their old tricks — they’re just being slightly more stealth about it.

Researchers from California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program recently examined the advertising of menthol and Newport-brand cigarettes in the state. They found a much greater prevalence of cigarette advertising in areas near high schools with significant populations of African American students.

“There is a systematic targeting (of disadvantaged communities) by the tobacco industry, which is an extraordinary public health problem,” said Lisa Henriksen of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who presented the research at a legislative briefing in Sacramento last week. “The addition of menthol to cigarettes makes it easier to smoke and more difficult to quit.”

Menthol cigarettes have come under fire because they appeal specifically to youth, who prefer the minty fresh flavor to the burning ash taste of traditional cigarettes. Some evidence also suggests that it’s harder to quit menthol cigarettes than regular cigarettes.

Targeting mint-flavored cancer sticks to low-income, minority youth that already face greater risks of cancer, obesity, and other health problems? That’s low even for you, Big Tobacco.