Smoking is terrible for your lungs, heart, and immune system. The carcinogens in cigarettes shorten your life. Despite this being common information, people continue to smoke for personal and social factors: It feels good, it feels cool, and we have been aggressively marketed to by cigarette companies to feel positively about it.
While smoking in general has declined, the LGBT community is topping the charts of new and existing smokers. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 members of the LGBT community smoke, whereas 1 in 6 of the general adult population smokes.
Cigarette and big tobacco companies undeniably target the LGBT community. By hopping on the bandwagon of pride and freedom, they quickly endeared themselves to LGBT users by marketing campaigns that say, “we care about you, we want you to be happy.” For individuals struggling with social stigma, possible social isolation, and difficulty with family accepting their sexual orientation, having a company loudly state its support and acceptance can be a powerful emotional message. In the urgent, right-now problems of freedom, marriage equality, school bullying, and workplace harassment, the long-term problem of cardiovascular or lung disease feels less pressing and urgent. As Tina Rosenburg adroitly put it in her 2012 New York Times Op Ed, “a cigarette is not a delivery system for nicotine. It’s a delivery system for rebellion.”
In addition to the emotional factors of how cigarette companies specifically target the LGBT community with pride focused advertising, nicotine has a demonstrated effect on stress and anger levels. Given the aforementioned social stress of individual prejudice from family and workplaces, as well as the institutionalized stress of unequal rights and freedoms, LGBT individuals experience enormous amounts of life-impacting mental stress. Cigarettes are a way to release the pressure valve.