CDC Targets Anti-Smoking Efforts At LGBT Community: ‘This Is A Justice And Equity Issue’

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has just rolled out a new anti-smoking campaign highlighting the negative effects of tobacco-related illnesses. The agency wants to emphasize all of the ways that smoking can indirectly impact a wider circle of people, like smokers’ loved ones or people breathing in secondhand smoke in public places. CDC officials also hope to influence a demographic they are particularly concerned about reaching: the LGBT community.

Dr. Tim McAfee, the director of the CDC’s Office on Smoke and Health, told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News that curbing smoking rates among LGBT individuals is a major priority for the agency. Since the smoking rate is 70 percent higher in the LGBT community than it is for heterosexual Americans, McAfee pointed out that it represents a “big, big health burden” in the nation — and effectively addressing it is a matter of “health justice and equity”:

“We need to pull back the curtain on this issue,” McAfee said, stressing that HIV-positive people can expect a long lifetime if they take their medicine, exercise and avoid smoking. “Smoking itself is bad,” he added. “But when you mix in HIV, it’s … like adding kerosene to a fire.”

He blasted the tobacco industry for targeting LGBT people, particularly the youth, and contributing to the rise in smoking in the gay community.

“This is a health justice and equity issue,” McAfee said. “We at the CDC are committed to this cause.”

McAfee is referring to the fact that recent studies have suggested that smoking now poses a bigger threat to HIV-positive Americans than the virus itself does. More than 60 percent of deaths among HIV patients are associated with tobacco-related illnesses, compared with about 25 percent that are associated with complications from HIV.

Unfortunately, however, the smoking rates among the LGBT community are still disproportionately high. That’s partly because Big Tobacco has specifically worked to target LGBT individuals, who already tend to be particularly susceptible to smoking due to minority stress. And there hasn’t been enough work on the other side focusing on LGBT-specific smoking cessation programs. LGBT leaders often don’t cite smoking as a big public health concern for members of their community, despite the fact that tobacco contributes to at least 30,000 gay and lesbian deaths each year. Campaigns like the CDC’s may help start to change that public perception.