Addressing Tobacco Usage in the LGBTQ Community

BY IAN UNGER

I would like to draw attention to the tobacco usage in the LGBTQ community, particularly by our youth. While the numbers show that youth as a whole are not taking up smoking as much as in the past, the same cannot be said when looking specifically at youth that identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning.

These youth are being directly targeted by the tobacco companies, making it even harder for them to avoid smoking. Tobacco companies have been known to sponsor pride events, attempting to create new generations of smokers by targeting those who are at higher risk. LGBTQ youth also face higher rates of stress and depression, driving them toward unhealthy coping mechanisms. LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to start smoking as their straight counterparts, thanks to the targeted propaganda and lack of education about the needs of LGBTQ youth.

Smoking weakens the immune system and causes disease, yet the targeting of LGBTQ events has been going on since as early as 1991. At least 30 percent of LGBTQ youth report they have been bullied at least once in a school year, and more than 25 percent have skipped school in the past month. Social stress factors are known to increase smoking rates, and with LGBTQ youth facing higher proportions of social stress, it can't be a surprise that they will turn to smoking - it is being presented, by the tobacco companies, as the "standard" way to cope for LGBTQ individuals, after all.

We need to take steps toward ending end this epidemic and help keep our LGBTQ youth healthy and tobacco-free. There needs to be more education about this targeted marketing, and it needs to be addressed as a danger to our youth. LGBTQ youth deserve to have healthy alternatives to reduce stress and should not be bombarded by the cigarette companies which are taking advantage of their situations. It is time we as a community stand up for our youth, because they are being bullied by tobacco companies just like they are being bullied everywhere else.

Ian Unger is the Youth Program Coordinator at Affirmations, 290 W. 9 Mile Rd. in Ferndale. Call 248-398-7105 or email iunger@goaffirmations.org for more information.
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