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Sobering Findings In Recent LGBT Smoking Study

Friday Jan 17, 2014
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  (Source:AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Today the Surgeon General’s Health Consequence of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress report shows the impact of tobacco is even larger than previously known on health. In conjunction with this release CenterLink’s Network for LGBT Health Equity has released information about 50 years of impact of smoking on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.

After factoring in LGBT prevalence and smoking rates, the Network reports the LGBT communities spent $7.9 million dollars per year on their top health burden, smoking. This is 65 times as much money as the Funders for LGBTQ Issues report all foundations spend on LGBT funding.

"It’s a brutal truth" says the Network’s Director, Dr. Scout, "We’re spending more on something that kills us than everyone else is spending to help us." LGBT smoking disparities have been documented with a series of studies over several decades, but the 2012 National Adult Tobacco Survey marked the first time a national surveillance instrument reported LGBT smoking prevalence. In that survey, 32.8% of LGBT respondents smoked, versus 19.5% of others. "LGBT people smoke at rates that are 68% higher than the general population," notes Dr. Scout, "and the 50 years of Surgeon General’s reports just show us how effectively lethal tobacco is."

"We’re spending more on something that kills us than everyone else is spending to help us."

"The LGBT communities have an excellent health infrastructure, but when you ask our leaders about our top health issues, smoking is rarely even in the list. It really is time for smoking to come out of the closet as the top issue health issue affecting LGBT people today" says Dr. Scout. This 50th Anniversary Surgeon General’s Report is only the 3rd of 32 to mention LGB and/or T disparities, but work across the government and states shows increasing focus on LGBT tobacco disparities over recent years. The largest national tobacco foundation, American Legacy Foundation, has included LGBT people in their funding for priority populations for many years. Last year the FDA made a considerable award to Rescue Social Change to develop marketing materials aimed at LGBT youth. CDC has funded an LGBT tobacco disparity network for over a decade, recently expanding the focus of the network to include cancer as well.

"LGBT people, people of color, the poor; tobacco preys on stigma and too often we pay with our lives." says Dr. Phoenix Matthews, a tobacco researcher at University of Illinois at Chicago and Network member. "I hope this number shocks people enough so we start building tobacco control into all of our communities’ health programs."

Today’s release of the Surgeon General’s 50th anniversary report on smoking notably expands the scope of diseases with a direct link to smoking. Whereas people usually associate only lung cancer with smoking, the Surgeon General reports 1 in 3 cancer deaths is caused by smoking. Since the first report was published more than 20 million Americans have died from smoking, 2.5 million of them nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke, including 100,000 babies. If current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million youth living today will die prematurely from smoking-related disease. But there are proven tobacco control strategies which are underutilized. The report issues a call to action to use these strategies comprehensively and refocus on end-game goals for the epidemic.

"It’s time for the tobacco communities to include LGBT in everything they do, and it’s time for the LGBT communities to include tobacco in everything we do as well," says Dr. Francisco Buchting, a LGBT funder and past Network Steering Committee President. "The great news about smoking" says Dr. Scout, "is there’s a cure. Enough is enough, it’s time to take strong measures to free the next generation of LGBT youth from this legacy."

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