Queer women of color are the focus of a three month long anti-smoking campaign, "Take Pride, Leave Cigarettes," launched earlier this month by the Chicago Department of Public Health and its Office of LGBT Health.
The campaign seeks to inspire current smokers to kick the habit and to prevent future smokers from starting by raising awareness about the negative impacts of smoking.
LGBTQ individuals are more likely to smoke than heterosexuals, at a rate of 34 percent to 24 percent, and more likely to smoke more than one pack a day, 47 percent vs. 36 percent.
Additionally, the Midwest has the highest prevalence of smoking in the United States and one in four adults smoke regularly in Chicago.
African-American adults smoke at a higher rate than the national average, 19.4 percent vs. 19 percent.
"Queer women of color are part of not one, but several different populations that demonstrate higher smoking rates or lower quit rates or disproportionate cancer related deaths," Quenjana Adams, public information coordinator at CDPH, pointed out. "The numbers scream a need for us to stem this rising tide."
Studies have also found that queer women of color are the demographic often most resistant to tobacco cessation programs and messages.
Jaweer Brown, vice president at Better World Advertising, the firm responsible for developing the campaign, said that the reasons people smoke are basically the same no matter what demographic, but she thinks one of the reasons queer women of color might be more resistant to anti-smoking campaigns is lack of representation.
"The approach to this campaign is to create something that is bold, hard hitting and eye catching and really represents the community, so that folks look up and see themselves, and then that also starts to debunk the idea that it is completely normal to smoke," Brown said.
"We wanted to make sure that we created a public education campaign that featured queer women of color and reflected the community in which we live and work," agreed Brian Richardson, CDPH director of public affairs. "To our knowledge this is the first public education campaign by a public health department specifically aimed towards queer women of color on this topic."
The ads feature positive images of young, LGBTQ women of color in a healthy relationship, free of tobacco use.
Richardson said that a public education campaign is not enough on its own. There also have to be policies and programs that support anti-smoking efforts, both of which he said are already in place.
"One of the most successful programs in Illinois is the State of Illinois tobacco quit line, 1-800-QUIT-YES, that includes information specific to queer women and women of color," he noted.
"Things that move that momentum are things like changes in policies, like when the bars changed their policies about where you could smoke, that signals a debunking of the normalization of smoking so that it becomes abnormal and you create this physical distance of where you can smoke," Brown added.
The CDPH held a town hall meeting in August at the Center on Halstead focused on the entire LGBT community and anti-smoking, and Richardson said that the current campaign came about in part from that conversation.
"It's a campaign we are every excited about and very proud of because in order to make a real difference in the fight against big tobacco we need to engage all people," Richardson said.
Campaign billboards and posters can be found all across Chicago as well as in bars, local newspapers and online.
"We want to make sure that they are reaching the population of queer women of color in Chicago," Brown said.
Both Brown and Richardson hope that the campaign will help queer women of color as well as the LGBT community in general think twice about lighting that first cigarette or take the first step to quit smoking for good.