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Business or Exploitation? Tobacco and social justice

People with mental health conditions (depression and ADHD, for example) and substance use disorders are estimated to account for 40 percent of cigarettes smoked in the United States, and 38 percent of military smokers start after enlisting. The much higher than average prevalence of tobacco use among these two groups is not a coincidence. For decades, the tobacco industry has exploited these and many other populations to sell its products, including those with mental illness, members of the military, as well as African-Americans, low-income communities and LGBTQ individuals. While the industry positions this as targeting and consumer choice, the facts reveal a darker pattern of exploitation.

Titled “Business or Exploitation?,” the new campaign from truth exposes the tobacco industry’s exploitation of individuals with mental health conditions and members of the military, with startling facts, such as:

  • Big Tobacco has given away free cigarettes to psychiatric facilities. 
  • In one tobacco memo, they even flagged that the military market equates to the size of New York. They also viewed the military market families as a “captive audience,” due to the "self-imposed confinement of the military family to on-base activities." 

More information on tobacco and social justice issues:

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Does the tobacco industry target the military?

The tobacco industry viewed the military market families as a “captive audience,” due to the "self-imposed confinement of the military family to on-base activities." In the past, Big Tobacco proposed on-base activities for military personnel and their families such as a military music program that “meets the soldier on his own turf with an activity he can relate to and enjoy at no cost.” Further, according to an article published in Tobacco Control, Big Tobacco has used various tactics to target military wives, like sponsoring Bingo nights on base for military wives’ clubs, giving out cigarette coupons and prizes and advertising in the free on-base magazines.

Do adults with mental health conditions smoke more than those without?

Nearly one in three adults with mental health conditions smoke compared to one in five adults without mental health conditions. Individuals with mental health conditions live about five years less than others on average, and the top causes of death—heart disease, cancer and lung disease—can all be tied to tobacco use.

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