The FDA will launch a public education campaign aimed at preventing and reducing tobacco use among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young adults ages 18-24.

Of the more than 2 million LGBT young adults in the US, more than 800,000 smoke occasionally. The “This Free Life” campaign is designed to specifically reach the occasional or “social” smokers in the LGBT community to help prevent tobacco-related disease and the loss of tens of thousands LGBT lives to tobacco use each year.

“We know LGBT young adults in this country are nearly twice as likely to use tobacco as other young adults,” said Mitch Zeller, JD, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products. “We want LGBT young adults to know that there is no safe amount of smoking. Even an occasional cigarette can have serious health implications and lead to addiction.”

There are a number of factors that contribute to the higher risk for tobacco use among LGBT young adults. The “coming out” process is a unique tobacco-use risk factor for LGBT young adults due to the actual and perceived social stigma, discrimination and anxiety experienced during this process. And data show that the “coming out” process faced by most LGBT young adults can lead to tobacco use and negative health consequences.

Research also indicates that many LGBT young adults can find a sense of community at LGBT bars and clubs, which sometimes provide environments conducive to tobacco use. Additionally, when some LGBT influencers — such as YouTube personalities, community bloggers and other nationally known figures — openly promote tobacco use, it further establishes tobacco use as a norm within the LGBT community.

“‘This Free Life’ is designed to challenge the perception that tobacco use is a necessary part of LGBT culture,” said Richard Wolitski, PhD, acting director of HHS’ Office for HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy. “The campaign shows LGBT young adults they can be the person they want to be and still live tobacco free.”

The process of accepting one’s LGBT identity and “coming out” to their friends and family leaves many LGBT young adults with a deep sense of resilience and passion to live their lives freely. “This Free Life” expresses this notion through the campaign’s tagline — “Freedom to Be, Tobacco-Free.” The campaign also uses authentic and credible messages to engage LGBT young adults by appealing to their core ideals, similar life experiences and common interests.