Volume 75, Number 30 | July 28 - Aug. 3, 2005

HEALTH

Minorities File for Tobacco Money

LGBT groups join with people of color in seeking tobacco funds for anti-smoking initiatives

By Hannah Seligson

Dr. Scout is a health care consultant working with minority groups who are seeking part of the nation’s huge tobacco settlement.
Members of various minority groups, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, have filed a friend of the court brief demanding that the settlement in the Department of Justice lawsuit against the tobacco industry provide over $50 million to remedy the ill health effects caused by smoking in minority populations.

The brief was coordinated through the Praxis Project, the Center on Race, Healthcare and the Law at the University of Dayton Law School in Dayton, Ohio. Groups who signed onto the amicus brief include the Asian Pacific Partners for Empowerment and Leadership, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, National Coalition for LGBT Health, The National Tribal Tobacco Prevention Network. The filing marks a milestone venture between the advocates in the LGBT and racial and ethnic minority groups to seek joint legal redress in a case that pitted the federal government against the tobacco industry. The Master Settlement Agreement, the largest tobacco settlement in history, was brought by a coalition of attorney generals in 46 states and five U.S. territories. The MSA awarded $246 billion in damages.

Makani Themba-Nixon, the executive director of the Praxis Project, a nonprofit organization that builds partnerships between local advocacy groups who seek policymaking input, said that “minorities have not been heard on this issue. We have watched these settlements again and again without any directed resources to our community. We can’t let this happen again.”

For the minority groups to be successful in this case, the justice department must prove that the tobacco industry disproportionately targets the African-American, Asian, Latino, American Indian and LGBT communities for tobacco sales. The MSA forced tobacco companies to publicly disclose its documents and marketing strategies, paving the road for a case like this.

The American Legacy Foundation, a non-profit organization that was established in March 1999 as a result of the MSA and is funded primarily by the settlement, uncovered the tobacco industry campaign, dubbed Project SCUM (Sub-Culture Urban Marketing), which was aimed at gays and homeless people.

Statistics on smoking in the LGBT community confirm that lesbian, gay and transgender people use tobacco at higher rates than do their heterosexual counterparts. In one study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the rates were 40-70 percent higher.

In addition, 45 percent of adolescent lesbians and 35 percent of gay teens report being smokers, compared to 29 percent of the general youth population.

These high rates are likely a result of the tobacco industry’s concentrated marketing efforts of youth in both minority and LGBT communities. “If you look at where minors are being sold cigarettes and being actively marketed to, it is happening in minority and LGBT communities,” Themba-Nixon said. “A lot of the cigarette ad campaigns are all about hip-hop and very much targeted to youth.”

Dr. Scout, who prefers to use only one name, who is an independent LGBT health consultant, works with the National Coalition for LGBT Health, one of the organizations filing the amicus brief. Scout said that the reasons why high rates of LGBT people are smokers is a complex issue, but that specific marketing by tobacco companies of the LGBT community is part of the answer. “When there was a struggling LGBT newspaper or pride guide, the tobacco industry stepped in early to advertise,” he said. “The LGBT community was happy they were being paid attention to and have stayed very loyal to those patrons.”

As a result of all of this big tobacco money, smoking is the most lethal health risk facing the LGBT community, said Dr. Scout, who pointed out, “many find it harder to quit smoking than it is to stop using drugs or alcohol. Tobacco is a deeper-rooted addiction.” To combat this epidemic in the LGBT community, Dr. Scout believes that the LGBT community needs “cessation programs that are socially competent and that includes access to medications, doctors, and support groups.” The problem, as Dr. Scout sees it, is that “a lot of people in the LGBT community do not have access to that.”

Themba-Nixon is hopeful that the money won from this lawsuit could go to instituting a comprehensive prevention program. “We need community coalitions at the local level to work with policy makers,” she said. “Most importantly, though, we just need programs that help people in these communities quit.”

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