By Lucy Hough
The presence of LGBT themes in cigarette ads surprised a crowd of people at a workshop during the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference at the University of Michigan last month. Because LGBT people are more likely to smoke cigarettes, the industry has responded accordingly.
According to the American Legacy Foundation, sexual minorities are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to smoke cigarettes. Bisexual women are up to 3.5 times more likely to be smokers.
Cigarette companies strive to associate with LGBT people – but not to come across as a pro-LGBT company, said Jaime Tam, who presented the “Big Tobacco and the LGBT Community” workshop. “They (want) to protect their image in the eyes of the general public.”
Tam said that tobacco ads are purposefully sexually ambiguous – featuring, for example, two men and a woman so that it’s unclear who the primary male is attracted to.
Some companies have aligned themselves clearly in support of the LGBT community as a way to sell cigarettes. Tam showed a Lucky Strike ad that ran in a 2001 GLAAD Media Awards program that stated, “Whenever someone yells, ‘Dude, that’s so gay,’ we’ll be there.” She also showed an American Spirit ad that ran in Newsweek in 2004 and in The Advocate in 2005 that includes a list of freedoms, one of which is “to marry.” But ads like these, Tam stressed, are rare.
Laura Simmons, a smoker from Coe College in Iowa who attended the workshop, said that she never realized that cigarette companies advertise to LGBT people.
“It makes me think a little bit more negatively about smoking because I think targeting a community is not very nice,” Simmons said. “Targeting such a marginalized community, that’s just low.”
Organizations such as The Last Drag, the American Legacy Foundation, and the National LGBT Tobacco Control Network work to provide LGBT people with resources and information about the negative effects of smoking and how and why LGBTs are targeted. The Tobacco Control Network states that it works “to eliminate tobacco health disparities for all LGBTs.”
Members of the workshop discussed ways to prevent LGBT people from being victim to such advertising. Suggestions included smoke-free club events, providing resources to quit smoking at pride events, and encouraging LGBT publications to resist accepting cigarette company advertising.
“What I hope we can take away from this, as individuals, is to work to pull tobacco out of the closet,” Tam said.
Learn more online: http://www.lgbttobacco.org