Unmasking the Rainbow: Illuminating Tobacco Disparities in the LGBTQIA+ Population

Written by Bronx Reality Check Youth Engagement Manager, Angela Hanson

This month, let’s work together to unmask rainbow washing… Marketing plays a vital role in whether people use or try commercial tobacco products. Moreover, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco companies spend billions of dollars each year to aggressively market their products. These companies also target specific populations, including the LGBTQIA+ population, and heavily flood them with commercial tobacco advertising.

During Pride Month, many companies will try to appeal to the LGBTQIA+ population by marketing their products with LGBTQIA+ symbolism. Tobacco companies will market their products with images of colored packages, arranged like a rainbow, while not genuinely investing in the community itself. This tactic of utilizing rainbows to specifically target the LGBTQIA+ population is a concerning phenomenon.

All Americans’ primary risk factor for lung cancer is cigarette smoking, which is also linked to several other cancers. According to the CDC, 29% of heterosexual people consume menthol cigarettes in comparison to 36% of LGBTQIA+ people. Essentially, the sharp variations in menthol cigarette smoking numbers can be explained by this intensely focused marketing. This also explains why an estimated 45,000 LGBTQIA+ individuals lose their lives to cancer every year.

Unfortunately, smoking rates among high school students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual differ significantly from those among their straight counterparts. In addition, 17.4% of high school students who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual currently used any tobacco product in 2021, compared to 11.4% of their heterosexual counterparts. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth had three times the prevalence of any current tobacco product usage among middle school students than did heterosexual youth.

NYC Smoke-Free proudly supports the LGBTQIA+ community. Members of the team will be at the NYC Pride Festival this month sharing our education and resources. By having conversation and providing educational resources, we hope to empower individuals to make wise health decisions. We also work hard to educate the next generation. Overall, NYC Smoke-Free hopes to shed light on these exploitative practices. The LGBTQIA+ community deserves to be celebrated, supported, and protected from the harmful influences of tobacco companies. Let’s work together!

Marketing: LGBTQ+ People Experience a Health Burden from Commercial Tobacco | CDC


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