HAMILTON — Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) community are more susceptible to tobacco companies’ marketing ploys because they may feel stressed or may have a strong desire to feel like they fit in, according to Lyndsay Stover of Tobacco Free Ravalli, a nonprofit organization in Hamilton.

“Tobacco companies use forceful marketing tactics, offer corporate sponsorship, and develop media campaigns that operate off the social stress of living in a world that has historically ostracized gay people,” she said. “These killer corporations advertise topics that are important to the LGBT community, including individualism, freedom, independence, social success, inclusion and acceptance. The advertisements give gay people the impression that the tobacco industry whole-heartedly supports the legitimization and approval of the LGBT community.”

According to Stover, that is not the case.

“The truth is, the tobacco industry is not really worried about the health and happiness of the gay community, nor any other group in society for that matter,” she said. “What the tobacco industry really does care about is recruiting ‘replacements’ to guarantee the financial stability of the tobacco industry, due to the large amount of people who die from tobacco use and/or quit each year.”

Stover said that the American Cancer Society estimates that 30,000 people in the LGBT community are killed every year by the tobacco industry, and that the American Lung Association found that LGBT people are at higher risk of tobacco use and have one of the highest tobacco use rates compared to the population as a whole.

PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a Hamilton-based group, will hold an informational meeting about this issue on Thursday, June 20, at 7 p.m. in the basement of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

According to Stover, tobacco companies have been required to disclose their marketing tactics after a legal settlement in 1998. The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, a project of the University of California, San Francisco, holds more than 80 million pages of documents created by major tobacco companies related to their advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales and scientific research activities.

“It shows how they target minorities, African Americans, youth, women, Asian Americans, any kind of a minority,” Stover said. “They develop a scheme to target or entice new users.”

Telling members of the LBGT community about the dangers of smoking is complicated, Stover said.

“A cessation class is general, it would be effective, but with certain groups of people you have to understand their background,” she said. “You can tell anyone to quit smoking, but you have to understand where they come from for it to be effective. You have to help them understand why they are using tobacco and help them overcome their addiction.”

According to the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program Progress Report, from 2000-2009, 460 people in Ravalli County died from tobacco use.

“Each year tobacco kills more people than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, murder, illegal drug use, and fires combined,” Stover said. “Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death, killing 600,000 people in the U.S. and 1,400 Montanans each year. The tobacco industry spends approximately $15.4 billion a year on advertising, aggressively targeting minority populations including youth, people with lower incomes, women, Native Americans, African Americans, and the mentally ill. They are well aware that their products will kill 1 in 3 people, but they continue to market their deadly, addictive products to those who are most vulnerable in society and manipulate people into a lifetime of addiction and eventual disease.”

For more information, call Tobacco Free Ravalli at 406.375.6573, or find PFLAG on Facebook and visit our website at PFLAGhamilton-bitterroot.org.

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