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Tobacco Use in the LGBT Community

cigarette-butt-stop-smokingTobacco use within the LGBT community is dramatically higher than that of the general population. Data collected by the CDC shows that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals are twice as likely to use tobacco products as those who identify as heterosexuals.

For women in the LGBT community this rate is even higher — almost triple that of the general population, according to a study done in California. Within the LGBT community, individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 have the highest smoking prevalence, with approximately 43.7% smoking tobacco products.

The American Cancer Society estimates there are over 30,000 deaths in the LGBT community every year from smoking-related diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer. Adults who smoke are two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared to those who do not smoke. The American Cancer Society also cautions this estimate is most likely conservative, since it assumes LGBT people are smoking at the same rate as the general smoking population.

In addition to causing coronary heart disease and cancer, smoking also weakens the immune system, making it even more difficult for the body to fight off opportunistic infections that are associated with HIV/AIDS. For individuals with HIV who are already at a greater risk for heart disease due to lipodystrophy, smoking or consuming tobacco products significantly increases this risk.

Big Tobacco Targeting the LGBT Community

Tobacco companies have been targeting LGBT people since at least 1991, through advertising at Pride and other LGBT community events, sponsoring local and national LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations and direct media marketing. Every year they spend over $13 billion promoting cigarettes alone in the United States.

In addition to indirectly promoting tobacco use by sponsoring LGBT events and organizations, tobacco companies’ marketing endeavors also involve directly targeting LGBT community members. They purposefully place advertising in media directed towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals. Advertisements in magazines and on event billboards promote smoking as being masculine and desirable, and depict the act of smoking as an independent and rebellious activity to draw young adults in.

Phillip Morris International is an American global tobacco and cigarette company and the manufacturer of Marlboro cigarettes, among other tobacco products. They have been openly and aggressively targeting LGBT people for the past 15 years. This company, and many big tobacco companies like it, have trapped thousands of LGBT community members using direct and indirect marketing campaigns through sponsorships and media advertising.

Findings from the National Youth Advocacy Coalition support those from the CDC. They state that LGBT youth are twice as likely to smoke as their heterosexual peers and that the impact of smoking is even greater on this segment. The tobacco companies prey on these youths during a crucial period of growth and expression in their early teens and then work to solidify these habits as they grow older. The tobacco industry presents smoking as a way to improve self-image, to experiment and to identify with an “independent” or “rebellious” crowd, without warning youths of the dangers of smoking.

Approximately one in four LGBT individuals suffers from an addiction to tobacco products, many after being entrapped by the marketing endeavors of big tobacco companies like Phillip Morris International. These companies have specifically targeted lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals over the past two decades with billion-dollar campaigns that have resulted in a smoking rate in the LGBT community that is twice that of the general American population.

Smoking Cessation in the LGBT Community

While quitting smoking is difficult, there are smoking cessation programs in Harrisburg, PA. Programs like these have helped decrease smoking in the general population from 20% in 2005 to 17% in 2014. While smoking causes damage to lung tissue, arteries and other parts of the body, there are benefits to quitting and reduced health risks that can be seen in as few as two weeks.

Within two weeks, blood circulation increases to the gums and teeth, reaching levels near those of a non-smoker. After three months, circulation improves, the risk of heart attack drops significantly and lung function begins to improve. After nine months, the body’s ability to fight infection increases as healthy lung tissue that works to keep your lungs free of infectious agents reforms.

After one year, the excess risk of coronary heart disease has decreased to less than half that of an active smoker, dropping to that of a non-smoker after 15 years.

Alder Health offers an LGBT smoking cessation program in Harrisburg, PA for community members who find themselves looking for assistance in quitting. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and according to the Surgeon General’s report, 80% of lung cancer deaths in females and 90% of lung cancer deaths in males are caused by smoking. The benefits of smoking cessation can dramatically decrease the risk of lung cancer over the course of a few years. Contact us to learn more!

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