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Tobacco companies use multiple tactics to keep customers addicted, so it’s no surprise they target vulnerable populations to increase tobacco sales. One such demographic are members of the LGBTQ community, whose smoking rates are 2.5 times greater than “straight” individuals.

About 30,000 people who are LGBT die each year from tobacco use according to LGBT HealthLink, which is part of a health improvement network funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce health disparities.

Tobacco marketing targeting the LGBTQ community began in the early 1990s when the Philip Morris tobacco company pledged donations to AIDS research and programs. According to the Truth Initiative, a public health organization that advocates against tobacco use, other tobacco companies took notice of the targeting and followed suit. To normalize tobacco use, tobacco companies began advertising in gay publications. They used taglines such as “Take pride in your flavor” and hosted promotional nights at LGBTQ bars that featured cigarette brands. In 2005, a study revealed that 30% of advertisements in LGBT publications promoting various products or entertainment also showed some kind of tobacco use. The marketing tactics of tobacco companies helped make smoking and other forms of tobacco use socially acceptable.

The American Lung Association also pinpoints other factors that may contribute to higher rates of tobacco use among people who identify as LGBTQ. Highly stressful situations, such as “coming out,” the fear of rejection by family or friends, discrimination, lack of access to quality health care, and homelessness can all lead to increased risk of tobacco use.

LGBT HealthLink states that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are twice as likely to be daily tobacco users compared to heterosexual youth. About 40% of lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students use at least one kind of tobacco product. E-cigarette use is also higher among those teens, with half trying the products and 3 in 10 currently using electronic vaping products.

One technique to help reduce tobacco use in LGTBQ communities is establishing tobacco-free policies at Pride festivals and other events. Tobacco-free events provide a healthier environment for everyone, since there is no safe level of secondhand smoke or secondhand aerosol from electronic vaping devices. When tobacco-free events are the norm, they increase the likelihood of individuals quitting tobacco. LGBT HealthLink suggests that health organizations promote cessation services and create a welcoming clinical environment. LGBTQ individuals who are comfortable asking their medical provider for help are nearly twice as likely to quit.

The FDA launched This Free Life, a campaign focused on educating LGBT youth about tobacco. To learn more, visit https://thisfreelife.betobaccofree.hhs.gov/.

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Eden Sowards, a Prevention Health Specialist at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 651-6466 or eden.sow@riverstonehealth.org

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