Prevention Groups Battle Smoking Among Gays

Gays, lesbians and bisexuals are more likely to smoke than heterosexuals, and prevention organizations are battling tobacco ads aimed at the gay population as well as taking some unique approaches to changing the community’s smoking culture.

The Oregonian reported March 3 that tobacco companies have produced ads that subtly appeal to a gay audience and also directly target the demographic through promotions at gay bars.

“If you were coming up gay, it used to be the only place you got to meet was in a bar,” said Michael Kaplan, executive director of the Cascade AIDS Project. “If you wanted to fit in, you’d smoke.”

About 30,000 gays, lesbians and bisexuals die from tobacco-related causes each year, but the issue gets scant attention even though smoking kills twice as many gays as AIDS annually. Tobacco companies, on the other hand, have cast themselves as allies with the gay community — sometimes winning favor simply by directly marketing to gays and lesbians.

To fight back, prevention groups have sent scantily clad men to gay bars to promote nonsmoking events and urged lesbians to “put your lips to better use” through a “delicious lesbian kisses” antismoking campaign.

Preventionists also appeal to gay pride: one ad depicts a rainbow flag with a cigarette in place of a stripe and reads, “When did smoking become part of us?”

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