Quick—what’s the biggest health risk for gay men? No, it’s not AIDS. And no, it’s not being clubbed by a horde of knuckle-dragging, tobacco-juice-chin-dribbling, conservative troglodytes. Good guess, but the correct answer is smoking.
The latest Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics show that 20.5 percent of heterosexuals and 30.8 percent of LGBT community use some form of tobacco product. The statistics from the American Lung Association show a similar disparity. Even the satirical news organization, The Onion, seems to have noticed the connection. Its parodies of CDC anti-smoking TV ads warn heterosexual teens: “it’s gay to smoke.”
“We’re missing the pink elephant in the room,” Scout, the director of the Network for LGBT Health Equity at CenterLink who goes only by that name, tells National Review Online. “It’s the biggest thing on our health plate and we’re somehow not seeing it.”
While about 490,000 LGBT Americans have HIV, 2.3 million are smokers, Scout says. Of these, one million will have their lives shortened because of tobacco use. Medical advances have extended the lives of those with HIV, but have not appreciably forestalled the fatal consequences of smoking. A graphic provided by the Network of LGBT Health shows that while having HIV as a non-smoker takes an average of 5.1 years off one’s life, the combination of having HIV and being a smoker takes off a whopping 12.3 years.
The government, tobacco control groups, and LGBT organizations are beginning to take action. Last year, the CDC issued its first ad campaign targeting LGBT smokers. A new installment of ads featuring tips from recent LGBT tobacco-quitters will begin Monday, July 7, a CDC spokesperson tells National Review Online.
The CDC also partnered with the Office of the Surgeon General to launch an anti-smoking video featuring Scout. The video’s June release coincided with two festive occasions: Pride Week and the fiftieth anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking. The two are not intuitively related, but the Network for LGBT Health Equity connects the dots with the slogan “Saving 1 million lives for pride.”
Nor is the initiative purely governmental. One California-based LGBT organization called the Coalition of Lavender Americans on Smoking Health (CLASH) has long been concerned with the problem. They are currently taking enrollments for a free 7-session tobacco cessation class in San Francisco called “The Last Drag.”
The American Legacy Foundation, the organization that used the hard-hitting “truth®” anti-tobacco advertisements, is also discussing the LGBT smoking problem and working together with LGBT activists.