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Health

Calls to N.Y. gay
health center on the rise, following Peter
Jennings's death from lung cancer

Calls to N.Y. gay
health center on the rise, following Peter
Jennings's death from lung cancer

The New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center reports a surge in calls to its smoking cessation program since the death of Peter Jennings due to lung cancer last week. The center's SmokeFree Project--the only gay-specific smoking cessation program in the New York metropolitan area--includes services both for people thinking about quitting and people who are ready to quit. Programs include individual counseling, free patches, hypnosis and stress reduction seminars, and a novel "Stitch and Bitch" class to teach new nonsmokers to knit.

"It really is a tough habit to kick, though it is very easy to become addicted, particularly in the gay community," Tom K., a 40-year-old New York gay man, said in an LGBT center press release. "I started smoking 10 years ago and quit about four years ago, but I started up again after 9/11, just like Peter Jennings. The news of his death really scared me, and I feel as if I am destined for the same fate."

Gay Americans are disproportionately affected by tobacco-related health problems, and studies have shown they smoke more than any other U.S. population except Native Americans, according to center officials. Among the reasons researchers cite for high levels of tobacco use among gays are high levels of stress and depression, using cigarette smoking to deal with stigma and homophobia, and because bars and nightclubs where smoking is prevalent often are among the first places young gay people visit to meet other gay men and women.

For people living with HIV, smoking is particularly hazardous. A New England study shows that more than 70% of HIV-positive individuals smoke. A more recent study from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center shows that HIV-positive smokers are at greater risk for bacterial pneumonia, emphysema, and asthma as well as various forms of cancer.

Many gay organizations have mobilized in recent years to urge gays and lesbians to stop smoking, but these organizations are also underfunded and in need of fiscal support, say New York City LGBT Center officials. "Despite a lack of funding, the center has continued its SmokeFree Project as the only program of its kind in the New York metropolitan area, serving LGBT smokers and smokers living with HIV," says Richard Burns, the center's executive director.

For more information about the center's SmokeFree Project call (212) 620-7310 or go online to www.gaycenter.org.

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