Big Tobacco Targets LGBT Community With Menthol Cigarettes And Predatory Advertising

A new issue brief from the Center for American Progress reveals that tobacco companies have engaged in predatory marketing against the LGBT community through the sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes, the only kind of flavored cigarettes the FDA did not ban in 2009. As a result, the continued legalization of menthol cigarettes has a hugely disproportionate impact on the health of the LGBT community.

It has already been reported that smoking rates within the LGBT community are twice that of the general population. The American Lung Association documents (PDF) that gays and lesbians are more likely to smoke because of the stress of homophobia, and a study of transgender Americans shows that they also smoke at higher rates because of the stigma they experience. The direct marketing of menthol cigarettes, however, exacerbates this problem. According to a report from the National LGBTQ Young Adult Tobacco Project (PDF), 71 percent of LGBT youth who smoke cigarettes smoke menthol cigarettes.

The ultimate impact is severe. Tobacco use causes at least 30,000 gay and lesbian deaths annually (PDF). A report released this week also suggests that gay men are significantly more likely to have had cancer than straight men due in part to the elevated rates of smoking.

While the banning of menthol cigarettes — as the FDA recently recommended — would not reduce the environmental stress and stigma that often leads to LGBTs’ higher smoking rates, it would go far to minimizing the health disparities. Studies have shown that menthol cigarettes pose a more significant health risk than non-menthol cigarettes. More importantly, the effect of predatory marketing would be greatly reduced. A National Cancer Institute study (PDF) found that 39 percent of all menthol cigarette smokers would quit smoking altogether rather than switch to another brand. The number was significantly higher (47 percent) for African Americans, another group significantly targeted by menthol cigarette marketing.

If menthol cigarettes are not banned, they will continue to disproportionately impact communities that already have societal stigmas stacked against them.