May 2, 2016 at 8:47 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
FDA targets LGBT youth in anti-smoking campaign
smoking, gay news, Washington Blade

A new FDA ad campaign urges young LGBT people to avoid smoking.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Monday that it has launched a first-of-its-kind public education campaign to discourage smoking among LGBT young adults.

The $35.7 million campaign, which the FDA says is funded entirely by user fees collected from the tobacco industry, includes one of several videos placed on social media in which actors portray LGBT people – including drag queens – dancing in gay bars while speaking out against smoking.

“We know that LGBT young adults in this country are nearly twice as likely to use tobacco as other young adults,” said attorney Mitch Zeller, who serves as director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

“We want LGBT young adults to know that there is no safe amount of smoking,” Zeller said in a statement. “Even an occasional cigarette can have serious health implications and lead to addiction.”

In a description of the campaign on the FDA’s website and during a telephone news conference on Monday, FDA officials said the videos are among a series of paid advertising venues promoting a tobacco-free message through print and digital media as well as outdoor signs and billboards in 12 major U.S. markets.

The campaign, which the FDA dubbed “This Free Life,” intends to reach LGBT young adults “by appealing to their shared values, similar life experiences and common interest,” the FDA statement says.

The statement says that based on scientific research related to smoking, of the more than two million LGBT young adults in the U.S., more than 800,000 smoke occasionally.

“The ‘This Free Life’ campaign is designed specifically to reach the occasional or ‘social’ smokers in the LGBT community to help prevent tobacco-related disease and the loss of tens of thousands of LGBT lives to tobacco each year,” the statement says.

Richard Wolitski, acting director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, said during the teleconference on Monday that officials decided to target LGBT young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 because research shows that age range to be the period in which most LGBT people “come out” to themselves and others close to them. In response to a question, he acknowledged that most people who smoke started doing so at the age of 16 and sometimes younger.

Wolitski said other recently launched FDA anti-smoking campaigns that target all youth in the U.S. would likely reach LGBT youth under the age of 18, including many who don’t identify as LGBT.

“The ‘coming out’ process is a unique tobacco-use risk factor for LGBT young adults due to the actual or perceived social stigma, discrimination and anxiety experienced during this process,” the FDA statement says. “And data show that the ‘coming out’ process faced by most LGBT young adults can lead to tobacco use and negative health consequences,” it says.

FDA officials were scheduled to hold a presentation on the LGBT anti-smoking campaign for D.C.-area stakeholders, including representatives of LGBT organizations, between 10-11:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 3, at the AFI Silver Theater at 8633 Colesville Rd., in Silver Spring, Md.

David Mariner, executive director of the D.C. LGBT Community Center, and Sultan Shakir, director of the LGBT youth advocacy group SMYAL, said their respective organizations would help to facilitate the FDA’s anti-smoking campaign. Mariner said the D.C. Center has a long-established seven-week Freedom from Smoking class, which is offered at the Center’s offices at 2000 U St., N.W.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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