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Smoking Rampant In LGBTQ Community, UIC Researcher Finds

By DNAinfo Staff | July 18, 2017 6:25am
 A woman smokes a cigarette in the Loop.
A woman smokes a cigarette in the Loop.
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DNAinfo/Lizzie Schiffman

UNIVERSITY VILLAGE — LGBTQ people smoke at twice the rate of straight people, a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher notes in a paper that offers five ideas to reduce the trend.

The paper, produced by a team led by UIC clinical psychologist Phoenix Matthews, said LGBTQ people are "at an elevated risk for tobacco related health disparities due to disproportionately high rates of tobacco use."

Around 46 percent of gay men and 48 percent of adult lesbians smoke, according to the National Institutes for Health.

Many anti-smoking programs target specific ages, ethnicities and gender — but not sexual orientation, Matthews said in a press release about the paper, published in June by the Society of Behavioral Medicine. Cessation services, such as tobacco quit lines, "are underused by LGBT smokers," Matthews added.

 Professor Phoenix Matthews of the University of Illinois Chicago researches the health challenges of the LGBT community.
Professor Phoenix Matthews of the University of Illinois Chicago researches the health challenges of the LGBT community.
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University of Illinois Chicago

Matthews recommends that smoking surveys include gays and lesbians specifically and that anti-smoking media campaigns include messages that target them. In addition, the paper urges reducing menthol-flavored cigarettes, which are favored by young smokers, and creating a national clean air act aimed reducing second hand smoke.

Lastly, Matthews' group urges increasing training of healthcare providers about the problem.

According to Howard Brown Health, which provides healthcare services to the LGBTQ community at a number of clinics in the city, high tobacco use can be related to "stress due to stigma and discrimination of identifying as LGBTQ" and "aggressive targeting of the community from the tobacco industries."

The tobacco industry's efforts to reach the LGBTQ community in the mid-1990s included handing out free smokes at pride parades, advertising at gay and lesbian bars and supporting AIDS research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The risks are high, says the NIH: "Lesbians who use tobacco face risks of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and other cancers five times higher than those of other women" and "the life expectancy of a homosexual man is 8 to 20 years less than that of other men and that high smoking rates contribute directly and indirectly to their early deaths."

The Centers for Disease Control said more than 30,000 LGBTQ people die each year of tobacco-related diseases.

The federal government offers a program that features text messages to help support smokers trying to quit. Click here for more information.