Cigarette smoking and use of other tobacco products is comparatively high among members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and poses a major health risk to LGBT individuals. Relatively little time and money has been devoted to studying LGBT health issues, and the studies that do exist are overwhelmingly focused on the risk of HIV/AIDS. However, substance use problems and mental health disorders among members of this population are also huge issues that are just beginning to earn widespread attention. Despite the growing awareness of addiction and substance use in the LGBT community, the prevalence of tobacco use doesn’t typically make headlines. Although the deadly potential of cigarettes and other tobacco products has been well understood for years, the danger often fails to generate the kind of attention and concern that is given to illegal drug use and alcohol abuse. It was not until 2012 that the CDC conducted the first-ever survey of tobacco use among LGBT Americans. The results of this survey showed that approximately one in four people in the LGBT population smokes cigarettes, compared to one in six members of the general population.
Social Stigma, Peer Pressure Likely Contribute to Smoking Rates
Social stigma and other stressors that LGBT people frequently experience almost certainly contribute to high smoking rates. Smoking can be a way for people dealing with the anxiety or depression that often comes from such stress to self-medicate. Once a certain substance-related habit has become established in a marginalized community, it can be particularly difficult to break. People who struggle for years to earn social acceptance and even family approval may be particularly eager to do what it takes in order to fit in with the LGBT community. Unfortunately, this often means drinking more regularly and giving cigarettes a try.
Tobacco Industry Has Quietly Targeted LGBT Community
However, peer influence is not the only factor influencing tobacco use in this community. In 2003, a study from the University of California, San Francisco examined the way that tobacco-industry leader Philip Morris had begun to target the LGBT population with its advertising. However, while Philip Morris may have led the way when it comes to LGBT-focused advertising, this population has now become a target population for the entire industry. Attempts to infiltrate the LGBT community have not been limited to advertising in LGBT publications. The tobacco industry has also made contributions to LGBT political candidates, has helped to fund pride parades and other events and has even given money to support AIDS organizations.
Need for LGBT-Specific Smoking Prevention
The lack of research and attention focused on LGBT tobacco use means that prevention efforts are also lagging. It is not even possible to say for sure what is needed when it comes to targeted efforts to address high rates of tobacco use among LGBT people. Is it just that anti-smoking campaigns need to become more visible and offer more resources to the LGBT community? Are there specific approaches to smoking prevention that are more effective for this population? Or do new approaches to anti-smoking need to be developed in order to have widespread success for LGBT people? The concerning numbers and the many unanswered questions highlight the need to make LGBT health issues a priority and to make smoking prevention a major focus of these health issues.