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“Big Tobacco” targets LGBTQA community

Presented by:
Hawai‘i Tobacco Quitline

Who targeted the LGBT community with “Project SCUM”? If you guessed “Big Tobacco,” then sadly, you are correct.

October 11 is the start of PRIDE week — the perfect time to empower yourself with the facts about tobacco and the LGBTQA community — the perfect time to stand up against Big Tobacco’s targeting, exploitation and undermining tactics to profit by endangering the health and well-being of this strong group.

Did you know that individuals in the LGBTQA community are more than twice as likely to smoke as their heterosexual/straight counterparts? Big Tobacco knows this, and works every day to make sure this dangerous trend continues.

It all started with “Project SCUM (Sub-Culture Urban Marketing),” a marketing plan created by one of the largest tobacco companies, targeting the LGBTQA community and homeless people to boost its sales. Based on its own records, the tobacco industry has been targeting the LGBT community for decades in subtle and overt ways. For example, “in 1991, a Wall Street Journal headline trumpeted, ‘overcoming a deep-rooted reluctance, more firms advertise to [the] gay community.’ The story called gays and lesbians “a dream market” and focused on the tobacco industry’s courtship of LGBT media giants such as Genre.” 1

“Project SCUM” is just one example, and the tobacco industry views the LGBTQA community as “a dream market,” and their aim is especially focused on the young LGBTQA community members. 2

Why? Because Big Tobacco sees LGBTQA individuals as easy targets. Even today, there’s often extra stress and anxiety among the community due in part to a sometimes unaccepting and hostile society. While Hawai‘i embraces equality with aloha, haters still exist and homophobic slurs still burn – especially for LGBTQA youth. For example, sexual and gender minority youth often fall victim to bullying, electronic bullying, family rejection, and lack of acceptance according to the “Hawai‘i Sexual & Gender Minority Health Report” from the Hawai‘i State Department of Health.

The facts are clear – the health and well-being of our LGBTQA ‘ohana are at risk:

Nearly 1 in 4 LGBTQA adults smoke cigarettes compared with 1 in 6 heterosexual/straight adults. 4

° 24% of all LGB adults in Hawai‘i currently smoke cigarettes compared to 15% of heterosexual adults. 3

° 29% of lesbian or bisexual women smoke cigarettes compared to only 12% of heterosexual women in Hawai‘i. 3

More than 30,000 LGBTQA people die each year from tobacco-related diseases. 4

• Tobacco products are hitting LGBTQA youth hard —

° 24% of LGB youth and 14% of questioning youth currently smoke cigarettes compared to only 8% of heterosexual youth in the state. 3

° Nearly 1 in 3 LGB youth currently use vaping products. 3

These devastating statistics are due in part to the aggressive marketing tactics Big Tobacco uses to target the LGBTQA community – by sponsoring events, bar promotions, giveaways, advertisements and more. 4 They advertise at PRIDE festivals and other community events by making sizable contributions to local and national LGBTQA and HIV/AIDS organizations. 4 They place ads in gay and lesbian publications and often depict smoking or vaping as a “normal” part of LGBTQA life. 4

It doesn’t have to continue this way.

Dr. Scout, former head of the National LGBT Tobacco Control Network, says, “How do we make sure we’re not manipulated by companies that sell a dangerous product? We educate ourselves about the facts and we all support the community members trying to combat this addiction, that’s how.”

Individuals in our LGBTQA community have had to overcome adversity all their lives. By drawing on that same empowering strength, the community can choose to quit smoking, quit vaping, set a good example for LGBTQA youth, and send a powerful message to Big Tobacco. Here’s how:

EMPOWER – yourself and your community around this issue.

POST or TWEET – a supportive statement or one of the facts in this article on your social media.

LIKE or COMMENT – on the Hawai‘i Tobacco Quitline Facebook Page.

TELL A FRIEND – what the tobacco industry is doing to the LGBTQA community – and how they can help take a stand.


    ° Hawai‘i LGBT Legacy Foundation is a great place to start!

Hawaii's Last Drag

    ° “Hawai‘i’s Last Drag” is a Life Foundation program specifically designed for the LGBTQA community. It’s different because it doesn’t start with quitting. It begins by exploring what quitting means for you, then moves to strategizing about what quitting will actually look like, and then creates a quitting plan specifically for you.

GET INVOLVED – the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawai‘i has coalitions in every county.

    ° Find out how you can help – at online!

TAKE A STAND – make LGBTQA Coalitions, groups, and gatherings – smoke-free and vape-free.

REFUSE – don’t accept sponsorships or donations from tobacco industry players.

SPREAD THE WORD – literally and via social media – about the Hawai‘i Tobacco Quitline – so everyone knows it offers FREE help for those who want to quit smoking or vaping, including FREE custom quit plans, patches, gum, lozenges, and quit coaching via phone, online and with text support.

    ° Now, youth as young as 13 can contact the Quitline for FREE help, too.

“Too often we are wary about calling the Quitline because governments haven’t always been terribly welcoming to us, but it’s important to know the Hawai‘i Quitline has been trained in LGBT cultural sensitivity and is committed to providing excellence service to all callers, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression,” advises Dr. Scout.

The number is 1-800-QUIT-NOW. You can also sign up online.

Presented by:

JIM MILLER, Chairperson and Director / Director Since 2014 / Committees: Fundraising & Sponsorship (Co-Chair), Honolulu Pride, Marketing, Finance & Policy, LGBT Center

Hawai‘i LGBT Legacy Foundation    Hawai‘i Tobacco Quitline

1 Washington HA. Burning Love: Big Tobacco Takes Aim at LGBT Youths. American Journal of Public Health. 2002;92(7):1086-1095.

2 Truth Initiative. tobacco is social justice issue: lgbt communities. 8 February 2017.

3 Holmes JR, Ching LK, Tomita KK, Chosy EJ, Pham T, Bowen AY, Young LA, Ryan J, and Starr RR for the Hawai‘i Sexual and Gender Minority Work Group. Hawai‘i Sexual and Gender Minority Health Report. Honolulu: Hawai‘i State Department of Health, Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Division. 2017.

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons and Tobacco Use. ( [accessed 2017 June 19].

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