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Report: LGBT Youth and Smoking

Report: LGBT Youth and Smoking

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Everyone knows that insecurities and peer pressure make teenagers susceptible to tobacco use, but in the case of LGBT youths, it has long been suspected that the unique challenges associated with having a minority sexual orientation and/or gender identity heighten their smoking risk. For the first time, a new survey explores the links between the stress of antigay discrimination and teenage tobacco use and suggests improved prevention strategies.

The report, "Coming Out About Smoking: Tobacco Use in the LGBTQ Young Adult Community" was released Tuesday by the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works to empower LGBT youths. Like many projects in LGBT health, it began as way to fill significant gaps in knowledge, where little has been studied about the reasons why LGBT youths smoke.

"You'll find that there is information out there about LGBT people and smoking, but it's never really whittled down to youth, which is the problem with lots of our health issue these days," said Jb Beeson, the deputy executive director of NYAC. "Youth aren't studied as part of the priority observation."

Reaching young people is critical in the case of smoking, where most smokers start by the age of 18. Using Facebook to promote their effort, NYAC generated almost 1,000 replies to an online survey over the past year, followed by work with five diverse focus groups at community-based organizations in New York, Florida, Illinois, Oregon, and Utah. Participants were asked a range of questions, including how they felt about tobacco, the tobacco industry, their smoking habits, and social factors in their lives like stress.

The data showed that specific challenges related to sexual orientation and gender identity prompted LGBT youths to smoke, often as a way to find acceptance. Among the circumstances faced by this group are higher rates of family rejection, homelessness and suicide.

"Young adults are feeling stressed out and they're feeling stressed from discrimination and they're families and from school," said Beeson. "They're looking for an outlet from that stress, but they also looking to build community. When those two things collide, it makes an easy, social way for them to get through stress."

While the connection may seem obvious, establishing the links between LGBT youths and smoking through a formal survey can provide a boost to organizations, which now have statistics to use when applying for grants and designing programs. The survey also provides insight into prevention strategies, for example, by revealing that LGBT youths tend not to smoke heavily and in many cases want to quit. This suggests a need for programs designed by youth and tailored to their uniquely stressful lives, with an emphasis on early outreach and explicit education about the serious dangers of smoking.

"As a queer community, we know these things and we want to do something about it, but without statistics and facts and putting it out there in a comprehensive way, there is little we can do about it," said Beeson. "What we're really asking for is that more research needs to be done."

Read the full report here.

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