Nearly one in three lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer adults use tobacco; a rate that is more than double non-LGBTQ adults. For LGBTQ youth in their teens and twenties, tobacco use is the most serious yet preventable health crisis.
Increased social stress from being unfairly treated is common in the LGBTQ community, and if families and friends are unsupportive, rates of depression and anxiety go up. As many LGBTQ individuals turn to tobacco use, studies show it actually increases stress and anxiety, and stress levels drop after quitting. High tobacco use has also been attributed to targeted marketing by the tobacco industry. In the 1990’s, when the LGBTQ community gained more social and political acceptance, companies took notice, determining this group as an emerging market with a lot of growth potential.
Big Tobacco began running targeted ads in LGBTQ publications, held giveaways for free tobacco merchandise and hosted local promotions such as bar nights. They donated money to local LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS organizations, all with the goal of creating a new generation of smokers. The targeting went so far that RJ Reynolds, a well-known tobacco company, targeted San Francisco with a plan they called “Project SCUM,” short for “Project Subculture Urban Marketing.” The messages were designed to appeal to the rebellious, nontraditional characteristics of the LGBTQ community.
Quitting tobacco is difficult for anyone, and the LGBTQ community faces unique obstacles. LGBTQ people who are comfortable talking to their doctors are 80% more likely to prepare to quit. If you are a healthcare provider, there are steps you can take to create a more inclusive environment and encourage LGBTQ patients who use tobacco to quit. If you identify as LGBTQ and would like to quit tobacco, there are valuable resources to help. Building a trusting relationship with your healthcare provider is a valuable start, and participating in LGBTQ-specific cessation groups and programs makes a big difference in feeling supported.
For free help quitting tobacco, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.