Gays and lesbians more likely to smoke (by quite a bit), study shows


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Among homosexuals: 37% of women smoke; 33% of men smoke.

Among heterosexuals: 18% of women smoke; 24% of men smoke

These figures come from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Published in the August issue of Tobacco Control, they’re based on a review of 42 studies about tobacco use among sexual minorities. (The heterosexual numbers are from the National Health Interview Survey.)

It’s not that the finding that gays and lesbians are more likely to smoke is new. According to the summary of an earlier report from the CDC, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2001:


Estimated smoking rates for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals ranged from 38% to 59% among youth and from 11% to 50% among adults. National smoking rates during comparable periods ranged from 28% to 35% for adolescents and were approximately 28% for adults.

But the new research helps call additional attention to, and further quantify, a serious, and well-known, health risk within the gay and lesbian community.

Said lead author Joseph Lee, a social research specialist, in the news release: ‘Likely explanations include the success of tobacco industry’s targeted marketing to gays and lesbians, as well as time spent in smoky social venues and stress from discrimination.’

So what to do?

Lee says: ‘Many gay and lesbian organizations are starting to reject addictive funding from the tobacco industry, and the community is organizing itself to address this health inequality through the National LGBT Tobacco Control Network.’

And the earlier study concluded: ‘Attempts should be made to target prevention and cessation interventions to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.’

No doubt. But before anyone goes suggesting an anti-smoking campaign targeting gays and lesbians specifically, take a read of this column in Slate by Steven E. Landsburg, which begins:


I’ve just learned from NPR’s All Things Considered that in California, gay men and lesbians are 70 percent more likely to smoke than the general population. In a sterling example of why I try not to listen to too much NPR, reporter Sarah Varney immediately segued into the perceived need for more anti-smoking ads targeted specifically at gays. In other words, Varney implicitly assumes that gays are either too stupid to have gotten the message that smoking is bad for you or too irrational to have modified their behavior accordingly.

The new research isn’t fully available yet, but Tobacco Control does offer a look at the bold new world of cigarette marketing on the Web, courtesy of a new study from Australian researchers.

The conclusions of that study: ‘Open source marketing has the potential to exploit advertising ban loopholes and stretch legal definitions in order to generate positive word of mouth about tobacco products. There are also lessons in the open source marketing movement for more effective tobacco control measures including interactive social marketing campaigns and requiring plain packaging of tobacco products.’

-- Tami Dennis