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By Ryan Stabler
With the recent death of Hall-of-Fame baseball player Tony Gwynn due to tobacco-related oral cancer, the public is talking more about the harms associated with tobacco use. While iconically tied to baseball, tobacco use is widespread among Michigan residents. But Michiganders who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are at an even greater risk of tobacco related health problems.
The LGBT community smokes at rates almost 60% higher than the general population (Michigan Tobacco Control, 2012). In Michigan it is still legal to be fired for being LGBT and prejudice can be a part of daily life and tobacco use is often used as a way to deal with these stressors. The tobacco industry uses this knowledge and specifically targets LGBT communities to use their products. The Tobacco industry spends millions of dollars a year on sponsorships for pride events and advertising meant to make buying tobacco products seem like an expected part of LGBT identity and community.
In 1998, 46 states sued the tobacco industry for tobacco-related healthcare costs; Michigan now receives over $288 million from the tobacco industry each year. Called the Tobacco Master Settlement, this agreement supposedly makes up for the thousands of deaths and other negative health impacts due to smoking each year. Despite the purpose if these funds, Michigan has never spent any of the Master Settlement money on tobacco prevention. In fact, Michigan has one of the most under-funded tobacco prevention programs in the United States.
The only way that we can reduce tobacco use and combat this huge disparity is with increased tobacco prevention and education. Currently Michigan funds tobacco prevention at just 10% of the minimum level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. It’s time for Michigan to prioritize health for all and use Master Settlement money for its intended purpose: Tobacco Prevention.