How The Tobacco Industry Targets The LGBTQ Community

July 2, 2021

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) population has been a focus of the tobacco industry since Philip Morris placed its first tobacco ad in Genre magazine in 1992.1 The strategy to target the LGBT community was uncovered through the discovery of the tobacco industry’s internal “Project SCUM” (Sub-Culture Urban Marketing) document.2 It has also been shown that the tobacco industry has conducted focus groups to learn about the smoking habits of gay men.3

Now, the tobacco industry openly targets gays and lesbians, placing ads in LGBT publications. These ads twist cherished LGBT values, like freedom, choice and pride, manipulating them to make smoking seem appealing to the community.

False Support

The tobacco industry has spent millions to infiltrate the LGBT community after determining it a profitable target. Examples include making campaign contributions to LGBT elected officials;4 5 funding AIDS and LGBT organizations directly or indirectly through other companies they own, such as Miller Beer;6 and, sponsoring pride marches, LGBT street fairs and film festivals.6

This public appearance of support, however, is a façade: while they recruit members of the LGBT community to advocate for their interests,7 8 their deadly product continues to take a devastating toll on the group through disease and death.

High Rates of Smoking

The LGBT population has one of the highest smoking rates compared to any other group. A recent analysis of data shows that gays, lesbians and bisexuals smoke at very high rates compared to their heterosexual counterparts:9 Gay men’s smoking rate is 50% higher than heterosexual men. Lesbians smoke at more than two and half times the rate of straight women. Bisexual men and women have the highest rates among LGBT communities, with almost one-third of the population smoking.

References renameme

  1. Smith, E, Malone, R, "The Outing of Philip Morris: Advertising Tobacco to Gay Men," American Journal of Public Health. June 2003, Vol 93, No. 6.
  2. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Project Scum. 12 Dec 1995. Bates: 518021121-518021129.
  3. Guiles & Associates. Exploratory qualitative research: "Benson & Hedges in the gay market," February 2004. Philip Morris. Bates No. 2504053916/3938.
  4. Soliz, G. president, Coalition of Lavender-Americans on Smoking and Health. Letter to Assemblywoman Carole Migden Requesting She Return $25,000 Philip Morris gift. San Francisco, December 17, 2001.
  5. Gronke, A. "Tobacco Control Proposal Criticized Smoking: Activists Say Bid to Shift Regulation from Health Agency to Alcohol Unit is Result of Industry Donations to Lawmakers," Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2001.
  6. Offen, N., Smith, E.A, Malone, R., From Adversary to Target Market: the ACT-UP Boycott of Philip Morris. Tobacco Control, 2003; 12(2):203-207.
  7. Daragan, K., Special Kings/Genre coverage, August, 18 1992. Philip Morris. Bates No. 2023439113.
  8. Mixner, D., Report: Update of Progress. Tobacco Institute, June 9, 1998.. Bates No. TI31439127/9131.
  9. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) 2005-2010. Prepared by: California Department of Public Health, California Tobacco Control Program, June 2013.