More than a quarter of people in the LGBT community engage in an activity that has significant negative consequences for their health. It can cause debilitating diseases and lead to premature death. It is also something that is preventable—smoking.
Smoking causes more deaths in the United States than HIV, illegal drug use and alcohol use combined, and more than 30,000 LGBT people die each year of tobacco-related diseases.
Members of the LGBT community smoke at rates 50 percent higher than the general population. Some studies indicate that LGBT adults are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to smoke than heterosexual adults. And, although most LGBT smokers say that they know smoking is harmful to their health, fewer have tried to quit (75 percent versus 80 percent of all adults).
It is understandable why the smoking rates within the LGBT community are higher. For some, the stress that comes with living in places that may not be accepting can lead them to smoke. At the same time, the big tobacco companies have marketed their products specifically to our community, hoping that slick campaigns entice young, and often vulnerable, individuals to start smoking.
The problem is that some of the most serious health conditions our community has been battling for decades are made that much worse with smoking. Smoking can make it more difficult to fight off infections, and people with HIV who smoke have a higher risk of complications than nonsmokers.
Quitting, while it may be hard, is not impossible. Research has shown that one of the best ways to quit is with the support of one’s community. The people around you can help keep you motivated and can help you quit for good.
This is why the DC Center for the LGBT Community recently worked with dozens of other organizations on a campaign to help people in D.C. quit. The campaign, DC Calls It Quits, took place the week of Sept. 21 and had the support of more than 40 local organizations, government agencies and health groups.
The goal of the week was to show people that there are a variety of community resources available—including help lines, support meetings and therapies—that can make quitting easier.
Smoking cessation is an important component of LGBT health and wellness. If you need help, join a local support group that specifically focuses on LGBT smoking cessation, try to quit with a friend or partner – do whatever it takes.
(Residents can access free support to quit smoking by calling 1-800-QUITNOW. D.C. residents who call this number can get free smoking cessation aids like nicotine gum or patches. Combining nicotine replacement therapy with such a program will double your chances of quitting successfully.
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade.