Today, NYAC has released its report, Coming Out About Smoking: A Report from the National LGBTQ Young Adult Tobacco Project. And the conclusion? Only 28 percent of the thousand young adults surveyed reported never smoking, leaving the other 72 percent of respondents in the smoker, former smoker, and “social smoker” categories. LGBTQ young adults are smoking, it is a social event for them, and it is connected to the larger discrimination and stress that we all face as LGBTQ people. But the silver lining is that most of them also know that it’s unhealthy, and many want to quit.

The report also finds that sexual minority youth are likely to smoke due to unique stressors such as discrimination and lack of family acceptance; that many sexual minority youth see smoking as an important social activity; that most sexual minority youth prefer to date nonsmokers; and that sexual minority youth smokers tend not to smoke heavily, with many wanting to quit. In order to reduce smoking rates, the report recommends intervention programs designed by youth and for youth, early outreach to youth smokers, and emphasis on the health risks of smoking.

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WHERE THERE’S SMOKE…

By jb beeson

LGBTQ youth use tobacco more than their straight, gender-conforming counterparts. Why does this disparity exist, and how can we confront it?

When LGBTQ youth experience discrimination, rejection, and violence from our families, schools, friends, and the media, smoking a few cigarettes a day to reduce stress hardly feels like the greatest risk in day-to-day life. What’s more, activities centered around smoking provide opportunities to blow off that stress, be social, and build community.

When I was 19 and a queer person searching for community amongst people like me, I took some shortcuts to making that happen. Queer people my age would crowd around outside of activist meetings, class, and wild parties to smoke menthols and gossip. It was about bonding. It was about relieving stress together. It was about being a cool kid with the other cool queer kids. If we were already so “at risk” for mental health issues, for self-destruction, I thought, what was one more risk? Smoking at least kept me relaxed and helped me bond with my community.

At 24, I have been off cigarettes for a year, and now serve as the Deputy Executive Director for the National Youth Advocacy Coalition (NYAC).. This past year, NYAC has been working on the National LGBTQ Young Adult Tobacco Project – a survey of tobacco use in our community with a focus on researching methods to engaging in effective prevention and intervention programming for young people, ages 18 – 24.

…So, why is tobacco so challenging to address? In gathering community support around LGBTQ tobacco use, I felt as though I had to convince my own community that tobacco is a serious issue. Along with many other health issues, tobacco is one of the pink elephants in the proud room that is the queer community – so many of us smoke, and so few of us are willing to speak up about its risks.

Many of my peers in the LGBTQ community have asked: “We have come so far to reach the point where we can be proud of our identities, to make our own choices and rally for our rights – who are we to tell anyone not to smoke? What happened to freedom of choice and determination?” While gay marriage, ENDA, and bullying have become the “sexy” issues of the day, our community seemingly cannot slow down enough to talk about taking care of the health of our bodies.

But fighting tobacco use is also about freedom: the freedom to have healthy bodies and lungs, and the right to get the services we need. That’s what NYAC is fighting for as it releases this report, which is a call to action and attention for all in the community to serve the health and well-being of LGBTQ young adults

Coming Out About Smoking not only points to reasons why young adults are smoking, but also how to effectively reach them with prevention methods. Young adults know that tobacco use is unhealthy, so emphasizing the risks of smoking can be very effective. LGBTQ young adults tell us that they want to discuss smoking and their health, they want to discuss the stresses that they are facing, and they want social opportunities to build community. This is a great opportunity for service providers and young adult leaders to develop anti-tobacco programs that address the reality of our youth’s lives. Let’s take it from words to action – put together a prevention program or get involved in the deep need for further research and policy change. Data must be collected on the US Census and Youth Risk Behavior Survey that is inclusive of LGBTQ identities and funding must start being funneled towards this serious health issue affecting our LGBTQ young adult community.

Discrimination, hate, and structural injustices are not the only threats to the safety and wellbeing of our bodies as queer youth. Why fight battles for social justice if our bodies are not healthy to enjoy all the victories we are sure to see in our future? Let’s build a strong, active community. Let’s build one that is healthy and empowered. We can bring down youth smoking rates if we act now. Let’s change the way the LGBTQ community looks at tobacco use, and give more opportunities to youth to take control of their health!


jb beeson is a 24 year old living in DC and is the Deputy Executive Director of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition. NYAC is a national social justice organization working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people to strengthen the role of young people in the LGBTQ rights movement. Celebrating its 17th anniversary, NYAC’s full-time professional staff supports local, state and national organizations working to engage LGBTQ youth. NYAC is committed to representing the voices of young people – the largest living generation -within the broader LGBTQ and social justice movements. Through capacity building, advocacy and youth engagement, NYAC is building a generation of impact. To learn more, go to www.nyacyouth.org