Big Tobacco and the LGBT Community: Targeted Marketing

With the added pressure and stress in accordance with fighting for human rights, Big Tobacco has concentrated their efforts on targeting the LGBT community.


Tobacco companies have been tightly reined in since the late nineties, when it was ruled that they could no longer market their products to young people and minorities (although some argue that the latter is still being pursued in various, less overt ways). But there is a new target market that tobacco companies have begun preying upon: the LGBT community.

Gay advocacy groups report that tobacco companies have long created targeted campaigns meant to appeal to the LGBT community. These groups have also begun to petition against this unscrupulous behavior on the part of Big Tobacco, but with so many other civil rights issues at stake for LGBT individuals, it’s been an uphill battle.

Why are There so Many LGBT Smokers?

By all accounts, if there are currently specified marketing efforts being pushed through by Big Tobacco toward the LGBT community, then they are working. According to Consumer Affairs, up to 70% more of LGBT people smoke than the general population, and they are up to 2.5 times more likely to smoke than their heterosexual counterparts. Gay advocates say this is because tobacco companies have heavily targeted gay individuals since the late nineties. Social pressures also may play a role, as many individuals may feel stigmatized as they “come out” to loved ones and their communities. During times of stress, it’s easier to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms: tobacco smoking being one such example.

Big Tobacco’s Marketing Push

Until recently, the LGBT community was a relatively untapped market. Fewer gay individuals were openly “out,” and community-focused media wasn’t as mainstream. As tighter regulations were put on the sales of tobacco products, the tobacco companies saw an opportunity in targeting those in the LGBT community. Targeted ads were placed on specific websites and magazines, and marketing strategies were implemented in order to get more individuals to smoke.

While this has given tobacco companies an “in” when it comes to advertising their products, the relative newness of their targeted approach also gives gay advocacy groups and smoke-free initiatives a chance to offset their efforts to prevent the LGBT community from falling victim to this approach.

Issues With Stop Smoking Efforts and Conflict of Interests

There are major issues standing in the way of preventing smoking among the LGBT community. Historically, anti-smoking campaigns have been less effective on gay and lesbian adults. This is due, in part, to conflicts of interest preventing targeted LGBT stop-smoking campaigns from taking hold. Many of the advocacy groups and organizations working to earn equal rights for gay individuals receive funding by the tobacco industry. It is rarely in an organization’s best interest to speak against the sponsors who are funding its work, leading to a tricky situation for those groups who claim to be acting in the best interests of their communities and members.

Some studies have also claimed that LGBT individuals are often less aware of the dangers of tobacco than the general population, or of the targeted messages being sent their way by Big Tobacco.


The answers to this issue are complex and multi-faceted. The LGBT community needs education on the marketing strategies employed by Big Tobacco, while also finding new sponsors for advocacy groups. New organizations specifically targeted the LGBT community with anti-smoking messages have also begun in an attempt to thwart Big Tobacco’s reach. Smoking cessation aids should be marketed to the community specifically by advocacy groups, and more information shared as to the numbers of smokers within the community as a whole.