These days we hear the term “social justice” which, according to Wikipedia, “is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society.” But what if an industry uses its power, through policies, strategies or by manipulating the legal system, to take advantage of groups of people which will give them monetary gain? This is happening everyday in the U.S. and throughout the world by the tobacco industry. They use their power in the courts to derail tobacco control policies that will help societies improve their health. And they use marketing strategies to target groups of people into using their products, which the industry knows will cause addiction to the product as well as long term illness and early death, to improve their financial gain. Those with mental illness, those living in rural areas, African Americans, women, millennials, teens, and those in the LGBT community are all targets of the tobacco industry.
The tobacco industry threw support behind Senator Jessie Helms of North Carolina for his support of protecting the tobacco industry in his state. But when Helms became an “opponent of AIDS funding and LGBT civil rights” a boycott resulted, and Philip Morris had to scramble to “pledge large donations to AIDS research and programs.” This “corporate philanthropy” went a long way in getting their foot in the door to the LGBT tobacco market. They also came up with a marketing strategy called “Project SCUM” (Sub-Culture Urban Marketing). Their community outreach efforts to “support” the community was a marketing ploy to get new, lifelong customers.
The industry targeted the LGBT community in much the same way as the African American community, through free cigarette giveaways and through ads in publications devoted to those who identify with the community. Is it any wonder that they have smoking rates 2.5 times higher than those who are straight? While the smoking rate for straight adults stands at 14.9%, LGB adults are at 20.6% and transgender adults are higher at 35.5%.
When you look at the smoking rates for young adults, the numbers are lower, 11.8%, for those who identify as straight, but numbers for LGBT young adults nearly mimic those of the adults: 19% of homosexual, 16.9% of bisexual and 33.2% for transgender. Smoking rates for bisexual women are even higher, up to 3.5 times. Both the LGBT and African American communities have something in common: a higher rate of smoking menthols – easier on the throat and harder to quit.
The smoking rate for teens in the U.S. has fallen 6%, but not for those LGBT youth. They are twice as likely to have smoked a cigarette by the age of 13, and smoke more often compared to heterosexual peers. And when you look at smoking rates for lesbian and bisexual girls the numbers skyrocket to 9.7 times over those who identify as straight.
“Tobacco use disproportionately affects many marginalized populations“, including the LGBT community, but you have the power to take back your life and health. “This isn’t just a public health issue, it’s a social justice issue.”
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