Tobacco use has significantly declined during the past five decades since the release of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking & Health. Yet some groups still have a higher-than-average incidence of smoking.
One such group is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23.9 percent of LGBT adults smoke compared to just 16.6 percent of heterosexual adults.
Irene Tami-Maury, Dr.PH, assistant professor of Behavioral Science, focuses her research on understanding why tobacco use is so high among the LGBT community and developing interventions to decrease smoking rates. These include strategies to help people quit smoking as well as to prevent youth from starting to use tobacco.
“LGBT students are twice as likely to have smoked a cigarette before age 13 than their heterosexual counterparts,” says Tami-Maury. “The cancer risk among sexual and gender minority groups is therefore higher than in the non-LGBT population because of the higher rates of tobacco use.”
These higher smoking rates can be attributed to several factors, including anxiety due to discrimination and advertising targeted specifically to the LGBT community, explains Tami-Maury.
To more fully understand these reasons and determine how best to tailor interventions for this community, Tami-Maury and her team have attended the Houston Pride Festival annually since 2014. By interviewing some attendees, Tami-Maury has collected data on tobacco use and health risk perceptions among LGBT individuals in the Houston area.
Findings from the first visit to the Houston Pride Festival were published in The American Journal on Addictions in 2015. A survey of 99 LGBT attendees found that 55% were current cigarette smokers and, on average, they began smoking between 16-17 years of age. When considering any tobacco products, including new and emerging products such as hookah and e-cigarettes, the prevalence was as high at 61%.
“Additionally, the prevalence of e-cigarette use (30%) among study participants indicates that these novel devices may help to perpetuate the prominent cigarette culture among sexual and gender minority groups,” says Tami-Maury.
She’s now beginning a study called Project TNT, which will investigate phone-based smoking cessation interventions for LGBT individuals.