Groups seek to free LGBT smokers from tobacco trap

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Anti-tobacco groups have released a new report exploring efforts to crush tobacco use in the LGBT community and highlighting the reasons LGBT people fall into the tobacco trap.

The analysis emphasizes Big Tobacco’s efforts to promote cigarette smoking among LGBT people, such as R.J. Reynold’s Project SCUM campaign that launched in 1995 and marketed smokes to gays.

On Dec. 11, the Legacy Foundation, an anti-tobacco group, released a report, “Tobacco Control in LGBT Communities,” which explores the reasons behind continued disparities in tobacco use among LGBT people versus the general population, explains Legacy's role in addressing tobacco use in the community and provides case studies in reducing smoking in the community.

"It's very likely that smoking is the single greatest health issue stealing years off the lives of LGBT people,” said Dr. Scout, director of the Network for LGBT Health Equity, one of six CDC-funded tobacco disparity networks and a project of The Fenway Institute in Boston. “Why do LGBT people smoke so much? We've been targeted by the tobacco industry, we're extremely vulnerable for social acceptance as we come out and the pressures of stigma can nudge anyone towards unhealthy behaviors.”

Scout added, “More LGBT civil rights leaders' voices have been silenced by tobacco disparities than any other single thing. For me, tobacco is one of the biggest social justice issues.”

A recent article in the American Journal of Public Health found that LGBT people smoke cigarettes at rates that are nearly 70 percent higher than the general population. It is estimated that LGBT adults are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to smoke than heterosexual adults.

Twelve years ago, Legacy, at a forum in Atlanta, announced a program aimed at understanding and controlling tobacco use in the community. A focus was on the:

• Lack of LGBT community representation in mainstream tobacco control efforts.

• Targeted marketing of LGBT communities by tobacco companies.

• Reliance on tobacco company funding by LGBT organizations.

• Lack of knowledge among community members in recognizing the public health threat that tobacco poses.

“For more than a decade, Legacy has worked hard with grassroots groups across the country to help combat the direct targeting that the industry has had on this community in an effort to reduce tobacco use and encourage cessation,” said Legacy CEO Cheryl Heaton. “Through funding and research, it has been our charge to help the LGBT community fight back and educate others on the dangers of tobacco use and nicotine addiction.”

Heaton and Scout agreed there have been advances, but more needs to be done.

“People in the community want and need help, but it is difficult to provide them with knowledge and training when there is a lack of support for the LGBT population,” said Scout. “With the help of others, people from within and even outside of the community can continue to improve tobacco education among a population that needs and deserves help.”

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