The LGBT Health & Development Program

Youth Blog > LGBT Youth Can Kick Butt

Posted on January 18th, 2013 by Julia in Youth Blog. No Comments

LGBT Anti-smoking ad from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

LGBT Anti-smoking ad from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention













Did you know that smoking is a big issue for youth, especially LGBT youth?

The Surgeon General of the United States reports that nearly 9 out of 10 tobacco smokers started smoking by age 18. Also, a recent study of tobacco smoking showed that:

• Almost 36% of people ages 18 to 24 smoke. That’s higher than any other age group.
• Among LGBT folks, 39% smoke, compared with 25% people who do not identify as LGBT. (1)

What are some reasons for these differences in smoking for the LGBT community? 

A report by Legacy explores many of the reasons, such as:

• Stress caused by discrimination against people who are, or assumed to be, LGBT.
• The influence of bar and club culture, where smoking is common.
• Tobacco ads aimed directly at LGBT communities.

Cigarette ad that says, "Note the rainbow colors"

Cigarette ad targeted to the LGBT community. Available at

Does marketing really matter?

The tobacco industry has a history of targeting youth and LGBT individuals. Products like candy flavored cigarettes are no longer allowed to be sold, but Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids explains that there are billboards near schools, tobacco placed near candy at stores, and cigarettes in movies. They have all been proven to increase smoking among young people.

If we look at the numbers again, it’s easy to see why tobacco companies target youth. If all those people that started smoking before they were 18-years-old (9 out of 10) didn’t start, then the tobacco industry would have far less customers.

Likewise, the LGBT community has been targeted through LGBT magazine ads and Pride events sponsored by big tobacco companies. Check out this document from Camel that has been archived online by TobaccoFreeCA. Called Project SCUM, which stands for “Sub-Culture Urban Marketing,” it outlines a plan to target gays in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco.

Are there any positive messages?

The money from a huge lawsuit against the tobacco companies in 1999 was used to start truth®, the largest youth smoking prevention campaign in the U.S. This campaign has prevented over 450,000 youth from smoking, saving over 150,000 lives.

Now for the first time, public health officials have designed an anti-smoking ad to speak directly to the LGBT community. The ad is part of an anti-smoking campaign from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shares real life stories from former smokers.

Bitch to Quit support group logo

Bitch to Quit is a support group from Howard Brown Health Center.

What are my options to quit smoking?

Not everyone ends up a smoker. After all, 61% of LGBT people do not smoke. You do have a choice, and there is help. If you or someone you know is trying to quit, you can get free help at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or Smokefree Teen. Here in Chicago, Howard Brown Health Center has a support group called Bitch to Quit, if you are LGBTQ, 18 or older, and trying to quit smoking.

Why do you think LGBT youth smoke? We’d like to hear your thoughts.

(1)     King, B. A., Dube, S. R., and Tynan, M. A. (2012) . Current tobacco use among adults in the United States: Findings from the national adult tobacco survey. American Journal of Public Health. 102 (11), e93-e100.

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