Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals use tobacco at substantially higher rates than their straight peers, according to a recent study published Monday in the online journal Pediatrics.
The study found that 30 percent of heterosexual teenagers have tried tobacco products--compared to 41 percent of gay and lesbian teens. Thirty-nine percent of bisexual teens and 32 percent uncertain of their sexuality had also tried dabbled in tobacco products. Lesbians were twice as likely to smoke than other groups.
"Gender does matter in tobacco use among sexual minority youth," the lead author of the study, Dr. Hongying Dai of Children's Mercy Hospital, told Reuters.
The Pediatrics survey studied how participants used each of these four tobacco products over the course of a month: chewing tobacco, cigars, cigarettes and e-cigarettes including vapes and battery-powered smoking devices. Gay and lesbian adolescents, including those questioning their sexuality, were more likely to use all four types of products compared to the other heterosexual participants.
Other limitations included counting each tobacco use the same way--unable to identify teens who tried only one cigarette compared to youth with smoking habits. The authors suggested education programs designed specifically for LGBTQ teens in an effort to create protection policies.
"Sexual orientation is not the cause of the smoking disparities; the stigma of being LGBTQ is the problem," a researcher at San Francisco State University Michele Eliason told Reuters in an email. "Many youth fear rejection by family and peers and hide their sexuality--this is very stressful and smoking is used as a form of stress release."
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that one in three high schoolers had smoked a cigarette, and one in 17 high school seniors were regular smokers. Ninety percent of adult smokers began smoking before they were 18, and 11 percent of high school smokers had started smoking in the last 30 days, the report showed.