When I was a little boy my father, Dr. Victor Marchione — a pulmonologist — took me into the hospital and showed me a black lung. He wrung out the lung out in front of me and I watched the black tar that killed its previous owner spill into a tray right in front of my face. From that point forward I vowed that I would never touch a cigarette and made it part of my life's mission to deter and stop others from doing so as well.
When I was 5, I walked up to a couple smoking in a restaurant and told them point-blank, "You're going to die." Then I walked away. I can only imagine their confusion as to why this little boy was predicting their imminent demise. Did they think it was the food in the restaurant or perhaps that I was a small prophet? Back then, when we didn’t know as much, they may not have thought I was referring to the cigarettes in their hands and the smoke they inhaled between bites.
Now it is an undisputable fact that smoking kills by destroying your lungs and body. It’s a huge problem, but it is htting the LGBT community especially hard. According to the National Adult Tobacco Survey conducted in 2009 and 2010, the prevalence of any type of current tobacco use is higher for LGBT adults compared to heterosexual adults, and overall, sexual minorities are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to smoke than heterosexuals. But the problem doesn’t just affect the adults in our community; it is affecting our youth at alarming rates. Smoking rates among LGB youth are estimated to be considerably higher (38 percent to 59 percent) than those among adolescents in general (28 percent to 35 percent).
To understand why people in our community are still smoking, we need to understand why they start. Several factors, such as higher levels of social stress, frequent patronage of bars and clubs, higher rates of alcohol and drug use, and direct targeting of LBG consumers by the tobacco industry may be related to higher rates of tobacco use among LGB people. Among youth, research suggests that smoking rates are high because of unique stressors that contribute to their risk of substance use, such as coming out, physical and verbal victimization, feelings of alienation, and depression.
While manufacturers of tobacco products are required to prominently label packaging with warning messages, they continue targeting the LGBT market through their marketing initiatives. According to Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, industry documents show that tobacco companies are aware of high smoking rates among sexual minorities, and marketing plans illustrate the companies’ efforts to exploit the LGBT market. Countering those marketing attacks with education campaigns is one of the best ways to keep our community healthy, but education campaigns can’t be boring — they have to be fun and compel the viewer to take action.
The “Left Swipe Dat” video that I did with Brittany Louise Taylor organized by The Truth, one of the largest and most successful youth smoking prevention campaigns, does just that — educates with humor and gives us all a simple way to combat the problem. The point of the “Left Swipe Dat” campaign is to shine a light on one aspect of the impact that smoking can have; it’s a funny video with a serious message. When you see a photo of someone smoking on a dating app, “Left Swipe Dat,” and by doing so, you will take a personal stand against smoking and send Big Tobacco a message that you will not support this bad habit. The video also reminds people that smoking is not only deadly, it’s unattractive, so it’s time to finish It once and for all.
Personally, I want a significant other who is going to take care of himself. I take a great deal of pride in maintaining a healthy body, so when others advertise smoking in their photos, this tells me that they don’t understand the impact that they are having on themselves and others. Love yourself, take care of your body, and don’t destroy it. Make yourself more attractive by just putting down that cigarette.
As I said earlier, it is important to me to help deter others from smoking. This video helps further that goal, and if I can get just one person to quit smoking, in turn saving their life, then I will be happy. And if I can influence people to take a stand through this video, then I will have satisfied my mission because smoking and cancer ain’t cute.
If you need more information and resources you can visit TheTruth.com and follow the campaign on social media.
Let’s take a stand together. Have pride and shine bright like a Frankie.
FRANKIE GRANDE has appeared on Big Brother and starred in the Broadway productions of Rock of Ages and Mamma Mia. Next month he cohosts the White Party event in Palm Springs, Calif.