Tobacco-Free CNY and Statewide Partners Call Attention to the Tobacco Industry’s Practice of Marketing Menthol-Flavored Tobacco Products to the LGBTQIA+ Community

Tobacco-Free CNY and statewide partners are launching a new campaign, which puts the spotlight on the tobacco industry’s aggressive marketing tactics and promotion of menthol-flavored tobacco products to the LGBTQIA+ community. By introducing the third phase of its statewide “It’s Not Just” campaign, Tobacco-Free CNY aims to educate people about the tobacco industry’s history of injustice towards the LGBTQIA+ community and end the misconception that menthol is just a flavor – menthol is a manipulative way for Big Tobacco to target, attract, and addict LGBTQIA+ individuals.

For decades, the tobacco industry has used deceptive tactics to infiltrate the LGBTQIA+ community such as advertising in gay publications; sponsoring Pride events, street fairs, and film festivals; and funding HIV/AIDS service organizations.[i][ii] While Big Tobacco may have appeared as an ally of the LGBTQIA+ community, their presence is not about support – it’s about aggressively marketing menthol tobacco products. These strategies were first uncovered through an internal marketing plan titled “Project SCUM (Subculture Urban Marketing),” which was intended to boost cigarette sales to the gay community and homeless individuals.[iii] As a result of this deceptive targeting, LGBT adults spend more than $2.6 billion on cigarettes each year and smoke at 2.5 times the rate of their non-LGBT peers.[iv]

Menthol-flavored tobacco products make smoking more palatable by providing a cooling sensation in the mouth and throat. The minty flavors of menthol mask the harshness of tobacco and trigger the smoker to inhale deeper, increasing the risk of nicotine addiction. Karyn Johnson, Program Coordinator for Tobacco-Free CNY, states “The tobacco industry is aware that menthol makes smoking easier to start and harder to quit. The tobacco industry uses menthol-flavored tobacco products as a manipulative way to attract and addict smokers in the LGBTQIA+ community – approximately 36% of LGBT smokers report smoking menthol cigarettes compared to 29% of non-LGBT smokers. Menthol is not just a flavor, it’s an injustice to the LGBTQIA+ community.”

“The LGBTQIA+ community has a long history of fighting for justice and equality, and unfortunately the tobacco industry recognized how the fierceness of our community could make a profit,” said Gabe Glissmeyer, Project Specialist with the National LGBT Cancer Network. “For decades, the targeted marketing of menthol-flavored tobacco products, combined with the experiences of homophobia and transphobia and a lack of access to health resources, has continued to make this a social justice issue.”

The “It’s Not Just” campaign first launched in May 2021 and draws attention to the communities that are disproportionately impacted by Big Tobacco’s manipulative marketing of menthol-flavored tobacco products. The first two waves of the campaign focused on the industry’s impact on African Americans and youth. Individuals can learn more about how to stand with these communities in their fight against the injustice of menthol-flavored tobacco products at the campaign’s website, NotJustMenthol.org.

For New York State residents who wish to overcome tobacco use, the New York State Smokers’ Quitline is a free program that offers individualized coaching, assistance with quit planning, and text and chat support. Adults 18 years of age and older may also qualify for free nicotine patches or gum. Visit nysmokefree.com or call 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) for more information.

The Tobacco-Free CNY program supports Central New York residents who want to live healthy, tobacco-free lives. The program assists community partners with the creation and implementation of tobacco-free policies and serves Onondaga, Oswego, and Cayuga counties. For more information about the Tobacco-Free CNY program, please visit our website at www.tobaccofreecny.org or call (315) 435-3280.

LGB/LGBT/LGBT+/LGBTQ+/LGBTQIA+ are all acronyms for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied. In NYS, we prefer the acronym LGBTQIA+ as the most inclusive way to acknowledge and respect the diversity of bodies, genders, and relationships. The majority of sources cited here use the same or similar inclusive acronyms; for specific usages, refer to individual sources linked here.

[i] “LGBT History Month: Why Are Smoking Rates Higher in LGBT Communities?” Truth Initiative, 2016.
[ii] “Tobacco Use in LGBT Communities.” Truth Initiative, 2021.
[iii] “How Big Tobacco Is Exploiting the LGBTQ+ Community.” Capital District Tobacco-Free Communities, 2021.
[iv] “Big Tobacco Targets the LGBTQ+ Community.” Cancer Action Network, April 27, 2022.