FDA Campaign Aims to Curb Smoking Among LGBT Young Adults

Pauline Anderson

May 02, 2016

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a smoking prevention campaign aimed at young adult lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) persons who are occasional users of tobacco.

Young adult LGBT persons are nearly twice as likely to use tobacco as other young adults, said Mitch Zeller, JD, director, Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), FDA, during a press briefing to announce the campaign, called This Free Life.

Of the more than 2 million LGBT persons aged 18 to 24 years in the United States, more than 800,000 are occasional or so-called social smokers, according to Dr Zeller.

"Unfortunately, research tells us that LGBT young adults often don't consider themselves to be smokers and don't understand the associated health risks."

The campaign, said Dr Zeller, "is aimed at making LGBT young adults aware that there is no safe amount of smoking and that even an occasional cigarette can have serious health implications and lead to addiction."

The range of negative health outcomes from smoking, such as cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses, can disproportionately affect minority groups such as the LGBT community, said Richard Wolitski, PhD, acting director of the Office for HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, US Department of Health and Human Services, during the briefing.

Dr Wolitski, a gay man living with HIV, said he has worked for 30 years to improve gay men's health and prevent HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and hepatitis infections.

"I have lost too many people to HIV in my life, and I don't want to lose any more due to tobacco use."

The impact of smoking has hit close to home for him ― his husband's father died from lung cancer as a consequence of smoking.

Coming Out

Research shows that LGBT youth "come out" at about the age of 18 years. The coming out process can be stressful and "contribute to actual or perceived social stigma, discrimination, and anxiety," said Dr Wolitski.

"It's a period of increased vulnerability, which can lead to tobacco use and other behaviors with negative health consequences."

Many LGBT young adults find a sense of community at LGBT bars and clubs that sometimes provide an environment conducive to tobacco use. Also, some influential LGBT persons, community bloggers, and YouTube personalities openly promote smoking, "establishing tobacco use as a norm within the LGBT community," said Dr Wolitski.

The FDA has partnered with persons of influence in the community to challenge the perception that tobacco use is a necessary part of LGBT culture, said Dr Zeller.

The $35.7 million campaign, which will use digital and social media and will include some dating sites, will target 12 markets across the United States in which there is a high concentration of LGBT young adults and where the prevalence of smoking is relatively high.

The $35.7 million campaign is being funded by user fees collected from the tobacco industry, not by taxpayer dollars.

FDA news release. Full text

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