Project SCUM lives on

by Jordan Redman
Staff Writer

Recent studies suggest the LGBT+ community smokes cigarettes at a rate 50 to 200 percent higher than the general population.

Researchers believe the evaluation of LGBT+ smoking related-deaths is extremely underestimated, given the American Cancer Society based their estimate on smoking rates of the general population, not the LGBT+ community.

Smoking rates in the LGBT+ population are disproportionately high compared to those in the general population.

The unreasonably high smoking rates in the LGBT+ community are due to a multitude of factors.

Stress due to stigma and discrimination of identifying as LGBT+ leads to increased depression, anxiety and substance use/abuse.

Lack of accessible health care services for LGBT+ individuals.

Aggressive targeting of the community from the tobacco industries.

The tobacco industry’s aggressive targeting of the LGBT+ community was revealed in the 1990’s after internal document “Project SCUM” was made public.

Project SCUM (Sub-Culture Urban Marketing) outlined a predatory marketing scheme to target the gay and homeless communities in San Francisco specifically.

The documents outraged many community leaders. “They just see us as another set of disposable consumers to addict and dehumanize,” gay rights and anti-tobacco activist Bob Gordon said.

“This is a hate crime, plain and simple,” said Kathleen DeBold, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer. “What else do you call it when a group thinks of gays and lesbians as ‘SCUM,’ and then targets us with something that kills?”

A $116 million “truth” campaign, part of the Orange Curtain ad series, fought to expose the details of Project SCUM further.

The campaign launched in February 2000 and is known as the largest national smoking prevention campaign for youth ever conducted.

“The American Legacy Foundation is the first national philanthropy to identify the LGBT+ community as a priority population for countering the tobacco industry’s marketing efforts,” said Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation.

Revelations about Project SCUM were among the mountains of evidence ensuring anti-tobacco litigation would continue.

Over the last few years, anti-tobacco legislation has restricted how and where tobacco companies can advertise. While tobacco ads may be waning, their legacy continues to affect the LGBT+ community.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four LGBT+ adults currently smokes, compared with one in six straight adults. In certain areas, such as New York City, LGBT+ youth are as much as twice as likely to smoke as their cis-straight peers.

Joey Franks, Norman local and former smoker, said he started smoking because “Everybody else was doing it. It was cheaper then, too. Mostly, it was the stress. I came out around the time I started smoking.”

Franks continued, “I quit because I was tired of not being able to breathe. I was tired of coughing and the horrible smell.”

For support quitting, including quit-coaching, quit-planning, educational material and referrals to local resources, call 800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669).

Copyright The Gayly – March 11, 2018 @ 7:30 a.m. CDT.