Health

How the Tobacco Industry Has Targeted the LGBT Community for Decades

January 13th 2017

By:
Danielle DeCourcey

Tobacco companies have been repeatedly called out for tailoring their ads to minorities and low income groups, but there's another target group you may not be aware of: the LGBT community. 

"Over the last 25 years, several major cigarette companies have also launched strategic ad campaigns aimed at the LGBTQ community," wrote Slate's Catherine Kulke in 2015. "By positioning themselves as allies to the gay rights movement, these corporations have worked relentlessly to make smoking an accepted part of queer culture."

Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and British American Tobacco did not respond to ATTN:'s request for comments about their ads. 

Past ads have tied pro-gay rights messages to cigarettes with phrases like "take pride in your flavor." 

"Take pride" tobacco ad.

A Virginia Slims ad that LGBT Tobacco says is targeted toward lesbians says that if you "always follow the straight and narrow you'll never know what's around the corner."

Cigarette ad targeted toward lesbians.

This Parliament ad, which ran in gay outlets, simply features two men and a dog on a beach, according to LGBT Tobacco. 

Advertisement in gay media publications.

The Centers for Disease Control has made note of the tobacco industry's targeted efforts, stating "If you are part of the LGBT communities, you likely have seen tobacco ads in magazines, newspapers, and websites directed at you. Tobacco companies are targeting your communities."

The ads appear to be doing their job.

The LGBT community has a disproportionately higher rate of smoking than straight Americans, according to the CDC. Nearly one in four lesbian, gay, or bisexual adults smokes compared to one in six heterosexual adults. 

LGBT children are twice as likely to smoke a cigarette before the age of 13, according to the Truth Initiative, an anti-tobacco advocacy organization. 

After confidential documents leaked from tobacco company R.J. Reynold's in 2001, San Francisco weekly reported that the company targeted San Francisco's gays and homeless population in the 90s with an ad campaign called Project SCUM.

"This is a hate crime, plain and simple," Kathleen DeBold, then director of the Washington, D.C.-based Mautner Project for Lesbians With Cancer, told SF Weekly at the time. "What else do you call it when a group thinks of gays and lesbians as 'scum,' and then targets us with something that kills?"

RELATED: Why Some People Aren't Celebrating This Smoking Ban