Such a Drag …
How many of your friends are smokers? Out of those friends, how many of them are LGBT? In my last blog entry, I discussed the overwhelming inclination within LGBT individuals to fit in, fit into a world that isn’t ready to accept them, and fit into a community that hasn’t fully accepted itself. There ar e many of us out there, those who have dealt with the trials and tribulations of uncertainty with our sexual identity, strained and sometimes forced growth, and acceptance — of ourselves. So where do we turn — we turn to our neighbor and ask, “Do you have a light?”
Tobacco-use is a major public health issue in the LGBT community, showing one of the highest smoking rates out of all disproportionately affected populations. The LGBT community is approximately 40-70 percent more likely to smoke than heterosexuals. According to the American Legacy Foundation, research indicates that up to half of LGBT adults smoke, and LGBT youth tobacco use rates are on the rise (59 percent compared to 35 percent of straight teens (CDC)).
So what are the factors that contribute to why the LGBT community have drastically higher rates of smoking?
- Self-esteem issues
- Need for peer acceptance
- Need for rebellion and liberation
- Struggle with sexuality
To the tobacco industry, this brand loyal audience was the ideal market. In 1992, the first tobacco ad surfaced in a gay publication, Genre, a fashion and lifestyle magazine for gay men. The ad campaign stemmed from Philip Morris. Despite the controversy that unfolded, their efforts were unwavering. In 1994, Philip Morris debuted Parliament as the first tobacco brand to advertise in LGBT media. The ad, featuring two women and one man, ran in OUT magazine. This gay-vague representation continued for three years with various Parliament ads for gays and lesbians.
Despite federal attempts to reduce smoking rates, numbers have leveled off in the past 10 years, while marketing and advertising of tobacco products to the LGBT community continues. In 2005, American Spirit Cigarettes unveiled an advertisement with political innuendos surrounding gay marriage. Click here to view the ad. Though the ad does not blatantly state the gay and lesbian target, the message and audience are clear.
“This is a community already ravaged by addictions”, said Hal Offen, president of the Coalition of Lavender-Americans on Smoking and Health (CLASH), an organization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual tobacco control professionals. “We don’t need the Marlboro Man to help pull the trigger.”
According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco use kills at least 30,000 gays and lesbians each year in the United States. We need to recognize this life-threatening, yet preventable public health issue in our community. For more information about smoking cessation and prevention, check out these sites:
- American Lung Association
- Gay American Smoke Out
- National LGBT Tobacco Control Network
- National Coalition for LGBT Health