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Lung Association Finds LGBTs Smoke More (Much More)

By L.K. Regan

A recent report from the American Lung Association puts some hard numbers to an effect that may not surprise you: LGBT people are more likely to smoke, and to smoke heavily. The report lists a number of possible reasons for this effect, which is weighing down the health outcomes in our community.

The American Lung Association points out that figuring out just what percent of LGBTs smoke is very difficult. There are many national and local surveys of Americans' behavior. But, unfortunately, information about sexual and gender identity is not typically collected for those surveys. So, while specific information about LGBTs may be sporadically collected, it is difficult to create a comprehensive picture using this information. Still, the Lung Association has been able to put together what they call "a growing body of evidence" that LGBTs are "more likely to smoke than the population as a whole and more than straight people: sometimes a lot more."

How much more likely? To give a baseline, the report says that, "In 2008, an estimated 46 million, or 20.6 percent of all adults age 18 and older, were current smokers." Against that, a group of researchers in 2009 reviewed 42 studies of smoking in the LGBT population and found that, "gay men had between 1.1 and 2.4 times the odds of smoking, compared to straight men. The 2009 review found that for the most part lesbians had between 1.2 and 2.0 the odds of smoking compared to straight women." That is not good—but worse yet was the rate among bisexuals, who in all of the state surveys available had "smoking rates higher than 30 percent, and ranging up to a high of 39.1 percent."

The Lung Association attributes the smoking-LGBT connection to a range of sources: "the stresses of social stigma, peer pressure, aggressive targeting by the tobacco industry, and limited access to effective tobacco treatment." They argue that smoking is more tolerated in the gay community in general, and that reduced access to health care means less availability of smoking cessation programs. They list another cause as well: "Researchers studying the influence of family and friends’ reactions on the physical and mental health of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth found that those who reported higher levels of rejection and hostility were significantly more likely to engage in risky health behaviors, including tobacco use."

If you smoke and are ready to quit, the American Lung Association has a hotline (1-800-LUNG-USA) you can call for counseling and support; they also offer a personalized quit plan online: