In gay community, tobacco is king

UNC-CHAPEL HILL (US) — Men and women who are gay or lesbian are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to smoke. The findings from a new study suggest smoking is a significant health inequality for sexual minorities.

The study, published in the August issue of the journal Tobacco Control, shows that as many as 37 percent of homosexual women and 33 percent of homosexual men smoke. That compares to national smoking rates of 18 percent for women and 24 percent for men in the 2006 National Health Interview Survey.

“The underlying causes of these disparities are not fully explained by this review,” says the study’s lead author Joseph Lee, a social research specialist with the Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Likely explanations include the success of (the) tobacco industry’s targeted marketing to gays and lesbians, as well as time spent in smoky social venues and stress from discrimination.”

Lee and coauthors Cathy Melvin of the Gillings School of Global Public Health and Sheps Center for Health Services Research, and Gabriel Griffin, a medical student at Duke University, reviewed findings from 42 studies of the prevalence of tobacco use among sexual minorities in the United States published between 1987 and May 2007.

Recognizing and understanding the increased risk in a particular population can help policymakers, health-care officials, and others provide support for people more likely to start smoking or who may want to stop smoking, Lee says.

“Tobacco is likely the number one cause of death among gays and lesbians,” Lee says, “but there is hope. 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.”

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