A new report from the Legacy Foundation highlights the lack of structural support within the public health community to combat the disproportionately high rates of smoking among LGBT individuals. Despite the fact that members of the LGBT community are about twice as likely to smoke as their heterosexual counterparts — largely due to minority stress, but also because the tobacco industry has specifically targeted LGBT Americans in their marketing campaigns over the past decade — Legacy notes that mainstream anti-smoking campaigns still tend to lack adequate LGBT representation to ensure their messages are having an impact on that population.
And the LGBT community itself doesn’t have enough infrastructure and capacity to address issues of tobacco use either, partly because LGBT leaders often don’t cite smoking as a pressing health concern for the members of their community. But high rates of smoking — and the subsequent increased risks of asthma attacks, lung cancer, and heart disease — is putting a strain on the well-being of LGBT Americans. According to some estimates, tobacco use causes at least 30,000 gay and lesbian deaths each year (PDF).
“It’s very likely that smoking is the single greatest health issue stealing years off the lives of LGBT people,” Dr. Scout, the director of the Network for LGBT Health Equity, explains in video that Legacy produced to accompany the report. “More LGBT civil rights leaders’ voices have been silenced by tobacco disparities than any other single thing. For me, tobacco is one of the biggest social justice issues.”
Legacy’s video also features Bil Browning, editor of The Bilerico Project, who chronicles his personal struggle to quit smoking. Watch it:
Although the CDC has directed a few of its anti-smoking advertisements at LGBT populations, Legacy’s report recommends that public health organizations can continue to improve their engagement with the LGBT community by focusing more of their research specifically on LGBT smokers and designing their smoking cessation campaigns with LGBT-inclusive messages. And since Big Tobacco currently targets LBGT individuals partly by sponsoring campaigns and events in the community — cultivating a false sense of being allied with LGBT causes — Legacy notes that the public health sector could also step up by providing the LGBT community with alternatives to tobacco industry funding.