Anti-Smoking Group 'Truth' Outraged Over Tobacco Marketing To LGBTQ, African-American Teens

Market research isn't always a good thing. Even though the number of teens who smoke has dropped to 6 percent from 23 percent in 2000, the tobacco industry has found potential new customers by targeting African Americans, low-income neighborhoods, and LGBTQ communities. The anti-tobacco campaign "truth" that has been at the forefront of the battle against smoking since 1999 wants the public to realize the manipulative techniques that are in place to lure more kids to smoking.

The purpose of "truth" is to not only address the dangers associated with smoking, but also to supply facts and information to expose the public to the tactics tobacco companies use to get more customers. The goal of their 2014 campaign "Finish It" was to get the youth of this generation to be the one that ends smoking for good. This year, during the Grammys, they announced the Stop Profiling Campaign with Amanda Seales and they aim to keep the conversation going about the targeting practices of big tobacco in order to keep the public informed.

"Our goal is to inform our target and arm them with the facts to make the best decisions for them and so we try the message out there. We work to expose these tactics because a lot of people will say, 'I don't see advertising' or 'I don't know of any of the tactics that are going on' or 'Oh, companies aren't allowed to do that because of different rules and regulations' but you can look back at the tobacco documents and see that there were a variety of tactics and means and ways that the tobacco companies wanted to go after these communities and so we want to make sure that we inform and expose these tactics to our audience to help them make the decision," said Jasmine Malone, the managing director for "truth" anti-smoking campaign.

She went on to explain how these marketing techniques work.

"Smoking can heavily affect you and so some of the targeting tactics that we find that big tobacco has leaned into on some of these more vulnerable communities range. Right? You can look back in the past. Previously they've given out free cigarettes to children in low-income neighborhoods. They've provided coupons to women in-- as they were picking up some of their food stamps at food stamp distribution centers. I think there are a variety of ways. They sponsor events, whether it's a pride festival for LGBTQ or it's placing menthol ads in African American magazines and we know that a majority of African Americans smoke menthol cigarettes. And so I think there are a variety of tactics that the industry has used to sort of target these more vulnerable communities," said Malone.

An article posted in ATTN: showed the ads that glamorize smoking and how they are directly marketing to LGBTQ teens.

"Over the last 25 years, several major cigarette companies have also launched strategic ad campaigns aimed at the LGBTQ community," wrote Slate's Catherine Kulke in 2015. "By positioning themselves as allies to the gay rights movement, these corporations have worked relentlessly to make smoking an accepted part of queer culture."

For instance, Big Tobacco appropriated gay culture by using "pride" to promote a deadly product and has glamorized smoking in ads featured in LGBTQ magazines.

Something "truth" does to get the word out is by participating in the Vans Warped Tour. This is their 18th summer engaging in this fun activity that takes place from June to September and has 41 stops across the country. Their goal is to inspire teens and adults to take action and get big tobacco companies to #STOPPROFILING.

The roster of riders included many activists committed to explaining that smoking isn't just a health issue, but something related to social justice as well. This year's young adult riders include tour manager Josh Barna (St. Louis, Mo.); fitness fanatic and YouTube vlogger Lexes O'Hara (Springfield, Ill.); photographer and aspiring travel journalist Ricky Pinela (Orlando, Fla.); aspiring filmmaker and gamer Esai Guerrero (Tucson, Ariz.); gamer, YouTuber, and musician Brian Ochiagha (Tucson, Ariz.); zero-waste advocate and returning tour rider Chelsee Warneke (Oakland, Calif.); make-up artist and returning tour rider Karina Delgadillo (San Diego, Calif.); theater and comics fan and returning tour rider Alex Heberlein (Liberty, Ill.); and DJ and three-year tour veteran Cody Griswold (Minneapolis, Minn.).

Alex Heberlein spoke with Michelle Tompkins for the Inquisitr to tell us more about "truth" and the tour.

Vans Warped Tour
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Michelle Tompkins: Tell me about yourself?

Alex Heberlein: My name is Alex Heberlein, I'm a marketer and tour rider for truth on Van's Warped Tour. I'm 23. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Theatre from Truman State University.

MT: Where do you live?

AH: I live in St. Louis, Missouri.

MT: Were you a smoker? If so, how did you stop?

AH: I smoked for a few years, yes; I was able to quit using cigarettes through a mix of slowly weening myself off of tobacco products and the support of my friends.

MT: Why did you choose to get involved with this campaign?

AH: I'd known about truth for some time from going to past Vans Warped Tours where I'd interacted with them, and decided to apply after I'd finally given up smoking and reached the right age to apply.

MT: What is Truth?

AH: truth® is one of the most successful and one of the largest national youth tobacco prevention campaigns. The campaign exposes the tactics of the tobacco industry, the truth about addiction, and the health effects and social consequences of smoking. truth gives teens facts to make their own informed choices about tobacco use and inspires them to use their social influence and creativity in the fight against tobacco. The campaign is credited with preventing hundreds of thousands of teens from starting to smoke, and is working to make this the generation that ends smoking for good. To learn more, truth is part of Truth Initiative, a national public health organization dedicated to ending smoking.

MT: What is the Vans Warped Tour?

AH: Vans Warped Tour is a national traveling music festival that has been around since 1995. It mostly features punk and pop-punk artists, with a mix of metal and alternative artists, and puts them on a tour for just under 40 dates spanning almost two months.

MT: So, why did cigarette smoking among teens drop to 6 percent from 23 in 17 years?

AH: I would say that one of the biggest factors is the amount of information that is easily accessible about the negative effects of smoking, as well as a general shift toward being more health-conscious.

MT: Where can the numbers of smokers based on age, socioeconomic circumstances, gender, sexual orientation etc. be found?

AH: You can find a lot of these facts and research on or

MT: What kind of profiling goes on regarding smoking?

AH: For decades, African Americans, low-income neighborhoods, LGBTQ communities and those with mental illness have been disproportionately affected by tobacco use, due to profiling by the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry uses the culture, events and resources of these marginalized communities to take advantage and target their communities. The industry works by sponsoring community events, spending billions on discounts and coupons and making their presence known.

MT: How can you prove that it is happening?

AH: The truth campaign decided to focus their latest ads on three marginalized communities – low-income neighborhoods, race and ethnicity and LGBT communities. Each one has higher smoking rates than other communities. Below are a few examples of what I mean.

- Low income – At different points in the past 60 years, the tobacco industry has handed out free cigarettes to children in housing projects, issued tobacco coupons with food stamps, and explored giving away financial products like prepaid debit cards. These are a few of the reasons why low-income communities smoke in much higher numbers than the rest of the country. In fact, a 2016 report on the economics of tobacco from the U.S. National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization stated that, "tobacco use accounts for a significant share of the health disparities between the rich and poor" worldwide. For more on this, please check out Truth Initiative smoking and low-income communities article.

- Race/ Ethnicity – Research has found that even though black people smoke at a similar rate compared to white people, they are more likely to die from a tobacco-related disease than white people. This is because of the different ways minority groups are more affected by tobacco use. For example, there are up to ten times more tobacco ads in black neighborhoods than in other neighborhoods. The tobacco industry strategically markets their products to appeal to these communities, using cultural events, direct mail promotions and placed advertising in publications and venues that are popular with black audiences. For more info on smoking within racial and ethnic minorities check out the truth piece on this topic, and to dig even deeper check out Truth Initiative's article.

MT: Isn't this market research that would go on in most other industries? Why is this so bad?

AH: The way the tobacco industry specifically targets certain communities depending on where they live, who they love, their ethnicity, mental health and income turns their marketing into straight up profiling and it has to stop. The tobacco industry has shown their true colors before, with projects such as "Project SCUM: Sub-Culture Urban Marketing," a 1996 tobacco company marketing campaign targeting LGBT and homeless people. Meaning, this is nothing new for them. Since their targeted marketing is causing communities to take up the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S., it makes tobacco go from a public health issue, to a social justice one as well.

[Image by SasinParaksa/iStock]

MT: How was the marketing targeted to LGBTQ audiences?

AH: The tobacco industry has worked towards appealing to the LGBT community through things like advertising in LGBTQ press, giving away free cigarettes and tobacco industry merchandise and sponsoring their events. Studies have found that overall LGBT adults smoking at rates up to 2.5 times higher than straight adults, due in part to the targeted marketing by big tobacco.

MT: How is smoking not an equal opportunity killer?

AH: Smoking is not an equal opportunity killer because of the way African Americans, low-income neighborhoods, LGBTQ communities and those with mental illness have been targeted. Please check out Truth Initiative's page on the topic for a variety of facts you might find helpful.

MT: What is the stop profiling campaign?

AH: During the 59th annual GRAMMY awards, truth premiered their latest campaign known as: Stop Profiling. The campaign shines a light on how the tobacco industry deliberately singles out communities that already face adversity and inequality with aggressive marketing tactics that equal profiling.

MT: Is there anything you want to add?

AH: Yes, people can call out tobacco industry profiling as it happens by tagging @truthorange. truth is also mobilizing youth nationwide via Join the movement!

[Feautured image vchal/Istock]