To the Editor:
In Dennis Lane’s November 16 letter to the editor, he raised the claim that the Marion Board of Health has in the past sought “to isolate [tobacco] products preferred by minorities and the LGBTQ community….”
As a member of the LGBTQ community who works on town-level tobacco control policy and is a homeowner in neighboring Wareham, I would like to provide perspective on the tobacco industry’s targeting of the gay community which has led to much higher smoking rates today.
2015 data shows that the Massachusetts smoking rate for adults is 14.7% while the smoking rate among LGBTQ adults is 20.6%. Among LGBTQ youth, the statewide smoking rate for all youth is 7.7% compared to 15.5% for LGBTQ youth.
Cigarette ad campaigns have targeted the gay community by purposely focusing on “pride” and “freedom,” two common focal points for the community, in association with smoking. This focus has been used for brands such as Lucky Strike, American Spirit and Camel.
In 1995, R.J. Reynolds, the tobacco makers of Camel and Pall Mall, targeted the LGBTQ community with Project “SubCulture Urban Marketing” or “SCUM.” Documents from the company outlined plans for an ad campaign targeting gay men in San Francisco to encourage use of their products. At the same time, they sought to publicly ally as an LGBTQ supporter and hosted both a booth at that year’s Pride parade and an after party at a gay nightclub.
And from a 1997 Philip Morris memo, the company noted, “A large percentage of Gays and Lesbians are smokers. In order to increase brand share and brand awareness for the Benson & Hedges brand, it is imperative to identify new markets with growth potential. Many Gay and Lesbian adult smokers also have a preference for menthol brands.”
Smoking is higher in the LGBTQ community because the tobacco industry targeted us successfully. And higher smoking rates lead to higher rates of disease and death.
Today, towns have available dozens of tobacco control policies that aim to achieve the three goals of the state’s tobacco control program: (1) keep youth from starting to use nicotine products; (2) help current nicotine users to quit; and (3) reduce involuntary exposure of second-hand smoke. Note that none of these three goals specifically targets or excludes any group of people based on sexual orientation, race or gender.
The flavored tobacco product sales restriction policy that the Marion Board of Health is considering limits flavored products to qualifying adult-only retailers. This policy works to prevent youth from starting to use nicotine products and to support those who want to quit and has been implemented in 106 other municipalities (including Wareham) around the Commonwealth.
Expanding this policy to include a restriction on where menthol products can be sold will further increase the impact of the policy. Since menthol creates a cooling effect, has an anesthetic quality and suppresses coughing, it makes cigarettes and cigars easier to smoke and harder to quit.
Restricting where flavored tobacco products can be sold will save lives. As a resident of Wareham and someone who works to promote public health, I applaud and support the leadership of the Marion Board of Health as they work to prevent young people from using nicotine products and support users who want to quit.
DJ Wilson, Wareham
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