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Studies reveal cigarette smoking is about twice as prevalent among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBTQ) adults as it is among heterosexual adults.

According to a 2007 study by the Colorado School of Public Health, an astonishing 80.4 percent of the 1,500 GLBTQ-identified participants living in Colorado smoked daily. Close to one-third of them smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day. Regarding intentions to quit, only 8.5 percent were preparing to quit, and more than two-thirds (67.6%) had no intention to quit within the next six months.

Another study, conducted by the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, found a similar correlation between those identifying as GLBTQ and smoking cigarettes.

A plausible explanation for the spike in cigarette-use by this cultural group may be the everyday pressures on the GLBTQ community. Smoking serves as a coping method for everyday social stress, which may include stigma, prejudice, rejection and homophobia.

“A lot of stress comes from being bullied. We have had many members stop going to school and it may possibly have to do with (their) identity or some sort of bullying,” mentioned UTSA’s GLBTQ president Gisselle Laredo.

“Our main goal is to provide a safe space for GLBTQ students here at UTSA”, said Laredo.

Women’s Studies Professor Michael Lee Gardin explained the possible influences that push members of the GLBTQ community to smoke. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals often display health disparities at higher rates than their counterparts, such as greater incidents of struggles with mental health and addiction,” said Gardin. “Largely, society contributes to those trends.”

Gardin further explained that everyday micro-aggressions — messages, insults, snubs, scorns that communicate hostility based on a person’s identity — can contribute to stress that may push someone to take up smoking.

“GLBTQ (people) are often in positions where they must explain and defend their identity, behavior or appearance, whereas a heterosexual counterpart would not be placed in such a position,” added Gardin. “Furthermore, society is structured with heteronormativity, so that GLBTQ people are consistently faced with cultural messages that demean them or communicate how they are lesser or abnormal human beings.”

This negative social effect on the GLBTQ community has been used by cigarette companies through their sponsorships, and more directly by their campaign ads that speak to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender public.

American Spirit brand cigarettes is one of the tobacco companies who have adopted this targeting technique through ads for menthol-flavored cigarettes, the only kind of flavored cigarettes not banned by the FDA in 2009. Their ad contains selective language specifically targeting the GLBTQ community with phrases such as “freedom to speak, to choose, to marry.” According to a report from the National LGBTQ Young Adult Tobacco Project, 71 percent of LGBTQ youth who smoke cigarettes smoke menthol cigarettes.

As a way to intervene and act against this increase in smoking, public health campaigns need to step up their efforts to encourage cessation through the same methods used by smoking companies that have proven to be highly effective.

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