Homosexual Group's Letter Opposing Tobacco Advertising

July 7, 2008 - 8:21 PM

(Editor's Note: The following is a letter sent by the Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center of Orange County, Calif., addressed to Frontiers magazine, regarding the magazine's acceptance of tobacco advertising.)

Dear Frontiers Magazine,

I am writing to protest the Camel ad in the centerfold of the January 17, 2003, Volume 21, Issue 19 of Frontiers Magazine. As a (reader of Frontiers Magazine since college), I am dismayed to find that a progressive thinking magazine like yours with a visionary outlook towards LGBT politics, health and art, would place, dead center, an ad that actively promotes smoking. Camel's "Pleasure to Burn" ad is one of many schemes by R.J. Reynolds to make a profit without regard to the health and well being of the LGBT population. How can Frontiers, a magazine at the forefront of LGBT advocacy, place an ad associating pleasure and monetary indulgence with tobacco, a substance that kills more LGBT people than HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, and LGBT-bashing combined?

While many LGBT health advocates have attempted to de-bunk the cultural consciousness that pairs the classic Hollywood icon image exuding sex appeal, exoticism and sophistication with the oral gratification of smoking, ads such as "Pleasure to Burn" only reinforce the strength of this unfortunate association. This particular ad is designed to appeal to a largely gay male audience by featuring a bartender with clean-cut hairstyle and highly maintained dress-shirt (complete with cuff and vest) who looks inquisitively at the ambiguous bar patron/reader, mimicking the Humphrey Bogart look in classics such as Casablanca. The ad further contributes to the classic Casablanca-like scenario by using a Turkish-like font and a background that suggests an exotic location and another culture. More reinforcement of the overseas bar scenario can be found through the arch shape with fencing in the windows (Mediterranean-style), the bottle of blue wine in an unrecognizable, likely non-English label, and a gold platter with detailed inscriptions and texture. The classic and exotic environment of the ad is clearly designed to appeal to a gay male audience and make them associate smoking with pleasure.

What is further infuriating about this particular ad is the Surgeon General warning label/disclaimer it uses: ""Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, And Low Birth Weight." While this label may make some sense to different sexual orientations and identities (particularly pregnant heterosexual or lesbian women), it is not relevant in a magazine that caters (specifically through ads) to a gay male audience.

I urge Frontiers Magazine to consider that while the actual statistical results vary, one straightforward and consistent finding among researchers is that lesbians, gay men, and LGBT youth smoke more than their heterosexual counterparts. Although no research has been documented on transgender smokers to date, there is no doubt that transgender people smoke at equally if not more alarming rates.

Additionally, and specifically because Frontiers Magazine has been a significant vehicle in disseminating information about HIV/AIDS, it must be added that people who smoke tobacco are more likely to transfer HIV due to the lining degradation of the oral cavity or minuscule ulcerations. Those who are already HIV infected are more likely to develop numerous health problems in even more significant percentages than non-HIV smokers. These include: Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia PCP; emphysema; the bacteria that causes Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), a life-threatening infection; oral candidiasis (OC), and hairy leukoplakia (HL).

In a climate where smoking is banned in bars and cigarette taxes are sky-rocketing, it is no wonder that R.J. Reynolds and other Big Tobacco companies are doing everything they can to assert that smoking is glamorous and classical--ageless in appeal. Tobacco companies are pulling out all the stops to increase their profits at the expense of the health of our LGBT community.

As a health advocate and as a (lesbian) reader of Frontiers, I have mostly praise for the articles and stance provided on many issues and the inclusiveness of communities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and even people of color and class issues. I urge you to reconsider allowing R.J. Reynolds and other companies from Big Tobacco to advertise in Frontiers. As an LGBT oriented magazine, Frontiers should look carefully at material that can be counterproductive to the health and welfare of the LGBT public it serves.

Ultimately, I hope this letter provides details that demonstrate the urgency for you to take a stand against Big Tobacco and continue the visionary goal of LGBT health and wellness, politically and physically. There are many alternative sources of funding, and the National Association of LGBT Community Centers would be more than willing to work with Frontiers in examining those options.