Time for LGBT Communities to Stop Being Such Easy Targets for the Tobacco Industry

So many of my LGBT friends smoke, and yet I know it's not just about tobacco; it's a direct result of stigma and discrimination. When we come out in our teens, we're desperate for anything to help bolster social acceptance. Unfortunately, this is exactly the age range when people are the most vulnerable to picking up cigarettes. Add to that the evidence of how the tobacco industry has targeted our communities, and it's easy to understand why LGBT people smoke at such high rates. What's hard to see is how the LGBT communities can break this tobacco industry-fueled match made in hell.

Congratulations go to several national organizations that are teaming up to take historic steps today to counter the entrenched LGBT smoking addiction. Yesterday I visited the D.C. office of the American Legacy Foundation, the large nonprofit created as part of the Master Settlement Agreement between state Attorneys General and the tobacco industry. We then headed over to the Human Rights Campaign offices to discuss Legacy's new spotlight initiative on LGBT tobacco disparities. Make no mistake: This is the first time we've seen a heavyweight from the tobacco arena and another heavyweight from the LGBT arena team up like this -- and it's not a moment too soon.

Legacy has been working for months on its report about LGBT tobacco control, fact sheets, the lecture/webinar they led yesterday from the HRC offices, and a powerful video that brings this issue to life. As one of the national tobacco disparity networks, we've shared with them the brutal truth of our experience: Too many LGBT leaders don't even realize we have a tobacco disparity. Our communities have a large and enviable health infrastructure, but somehow those considerable resources rarely focus on what is very likely to be our largest single health burden -- that we smoke cigarettes at rates that are nearly 70-percent higher than the general population.

Thank you, Legacy, and thank you, HRC. I hope this is just the beginning of more leadership on this often overlooked health topic, because today and every day, new LGBT youth will pick up cigarettes for the very first time, desperately looking for some way to fit in. I hope we can stop having that momentary isolation play itself out in decades of profits for the tobacco industry, at the direct expense of our communities' health.

Want to really see the pull tobacco has on LGBT people? Take three minutes and watch the new Legacy video, then please share it with an LGBT person you love.