Tobacco Companies Targeting LGBTQ Community

By McCarton Ackerman 07/23/15

Anti-smoking groups have questioned the motivation behind aggressively marketing to the LGBTQ community.

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Although tobacco companies are severely limited these days as to where and who they can market their products to, a new report has found that they are now aggressively targeting the LGBTQ community.

Several major cigarette companies have advertised to this demographic in recent years by positioning themselves as allies to the gay community. Slate exposed that in 2000, R.J. Reynolds documented plans specifically targeting both gay men and the homeless in San Francisco. That same year, Camel hosted a booth at the San Francisco Pride parade.

Those plans are still being followed through on more than a decade later, with a 2011 Camel Snus ad asking the gay community to “take pride in your flavor.” Lucky Strike put several ads in the 2001 program for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Awards (GLAAD), while other tobacco companies have incorporated buzz words often used by LGBTQ activists into their marketing campaigns, including “freedom to choose” and “freedom to inhale.”

However, some have questioned the motives of these companies due to their actions towards the gay community elsewhere. LGBTQ anti-tobacco site noted that cigarette companies gave two to three times more financial support to anti-gay rights politicians than those who supported them.

A recent report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 26.6% of LGBTQ individuals smoked in 2013, compared to 17.6% of their heterosexual counterparts. In certain parts of the country, like New York City, LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to smoke as heterosexual youth. Because gay individuals are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than non-LGBTQ individuals, many medical experts believe they have turned to smoking as a coping mechanism.

Some cities have started taking steps to address this problem. In 2013, Los Angeles unveiled their “Break Up With Tobacco” campaign, which specifically targeted reducing smoking among the LGBTQ community. The campaign even included a group of hunky men called the Break Up Squad, who promoted quitting smoking at nightclubs, gyms, and gay-oriented social media outlets.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.