HRC Blog

Call To Action: Tobacco Free Living

Written by Michael Glorioso HRC New Orleans Steering committee Co-chair and Outreach Subcommittee Co-chair

We would like to raise more awareness about how tobacco impacts the LGBT community – how historically the gay and lesbian community continues to be targeted by tobacco marketing, and rates of smoking are higher among the gay and lesbian community (and suspected to be much higher among the transgender community).

Background: Data on cigarette smoking prevalence among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) populations in the United States have recently been reported by a small number of sources. The American Lung Association recently created a comprehensive report to assist researchers, providing a variety of historical and statistical data. LGBT smoking rates are disproportionally higher than the general population. Recent smoking rates range from 38% to 59% among LGBT youth and from 11% to 50% among adults, while the national smoking rates range from 28% to 35% for youth and approximately 28% for adults. Smoking rates among Lesbians are reported to be up to 200% higher than straight women. This study sought to answer the question: What are the primary factors that lead to high smoking rates among LGBT?

Methods: Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected. Four focus groups were conducted with former smokers, nonsmokers, and current smokers to determine tobacco-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, and reasons LGBT community members initiate and continue tobacco use. Survey data was collected from 685 individuals at six different local events. Thematic analysis was utilized to analyze focus groups, while descriptive statistics were utilized to analyze survey data.

Results: There was a lack of awareness among focus group and survey participants that smoking rates within the LGBT community are higher than the general population. Focus group participants cited peer influences as reasons they initiated and continue to smoke, noting that the LGBT community is more tolerant of smoking than mainstream society. Additionally, the strategy of offering LGBT specific cessation programs was highly supported among current and Ex-Smokers. Survey respondents did not rate tobacco as a high priority health issue for the LGBT community.

Conclusions: Findings from this study clearly shows that tobacco use is a serious issue for the LGBT community. While community members are familiar with the harmful consequences of tobacco use and second-hand smoke, they are generally not aware that they are disproportionately affected by it. Project activities identified a number of innovative strategies that can be effective in increasing awareness, reducing tobacco use, and encouraging other behaviors that will reduce chronic disease and promote overall wellness within the LGBT community.

Now consider these facts, from 1997-2008 tobacco companies contributed $9,689,490 to the GOP.  Altria/Philip Morris ($4,820,190) and RJ Reynolds/Reynolds American ($3,584,500) being the largest contributors.  The estimated number of LGBTQ smokers in the U.S. is currently 2.4M.  With the average price of cigarettes in the U.S. being $5.27 that’s $ 3.3B LGBTQ dollars going to the tobacco industry every year.  Imagine if that money was spent on social justice and LGBT equality issues (i.e. Legalized Gay Marriage).  20 states currently fund Community-Based Organizations for tobacco control work. And a number of states plan to do so in the near future.  Get involved!  Identify allies or partners to work with locally or statewide (i.e. Tobacco Free Living).  Collaboration and awareness are the keys.

We do not want another generation in our LGBT community to suffer the effects of tobacco use. Exposures to in-store, in bars and in publication tobacco marketing are a primary cause of LGBT smoking. To protect our gay and lesbian community, we must reduce exposure to tobacco marketing and continue to create awareness around the harmful effects smoking and second-hand smoke has on the LGBT community.