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FDA Launches LGBT Anti-Tobacco Campaign
by Bob Roehr
2016-05-02

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The Food and Drug Administration ( FDA ) is launching the first ever anti-tobacco campaign aimed at LGBT "occasional user" young adults, ages 18 to 24. The education and prevention program is the fourth effort to target groups within the US population that are at higher risk for smoking.

The "This Free Life" campaign will make extensive use of print, digital, social media, and outdoor advertising such as at bus stops, in 12 key markets; Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York City, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. The budget is $35.7 million, drawn from user fees collected from the tobacco industry, not taxpayer dollars.

"Lifetime smoking and other tobacco use almost always begins by the time kids graduate from high school," according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Which is why the FDA aimed their first campaign at this group.

LGBT youth "are nearly twice as likely to use tobacco as other young adults," said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco products.

"The coming out process can be stressful…and is a unique tobacco use risk factor for LGBT young adults due to actual and perceived social stigma, discrimination, and anxiety experienced during this process," said Richard Wolitski, acting director of the Office for HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy at the Department of Health and Human Services. He is gay and "My husband's father died from lung cancer because he smoked."

Bars and clubs that allow smoking can play a prominent role in the coming out process and in finding a sense of community. Some gay bloggers and others "openly promote tobacco use, establishing tobacco use as a norm within the LGBT community," said Wolitski. Finally, tobacco companies have targeted the community with advertising and by sponsoring community events.

The campaign focuses on young adults rather than youth "because in the LGBT community the average coming out age is right around 18 years old," said Zeller. He believes younger LGBT people will be covered by their blanket campaign aimed at all youth.

When pressed as to why the campaign does not link to stop smoking programs, similar to the way HIV testing programs now link to care, the FDA was evasive.

We are focusing on occasional smokers who may not identify as smokers "because they only enjoy cigarettes when they are out on the weekend with friends," said FDA health educator Kathy Crosby, who helped to develop the campaign.

The promotional materials are a rainbow of attractive middle class diversity. When asked about efforts toward runaways and street kids who are younger and disproportionately LGBT, the FDA said it is relying upon it's generic campaign through things like hand held devices and bus posters.

Links to videos and resources are available at www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/PublicHealthEducation/PublicEducationCampaigns/ThisFreeLifeCampaign/default.htm .


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