Smoking in the Lesbian Community:
What Research Tells Us

by Helen Smith

Why do lesbians smoke? Okay, so that may seem to be a question with an infinite number of answers, but it is an important question to tackle when it comes to lesbian and bisexual women's health. Whether one smokes for social reasons, addiction, or to feel "more relaxed", smoking is not the best way to reach one's 50th birthday.

Smoking in the LGBT community has recently been a concern of medical professionals and researchers since studies revealed LGBT people smoke more than the general population. For example, research indicates the lesbians have a greater tendency to smoke compared to heterosexual women.3 The following is what research has revealed on lesbian and bisexual women's smoking habits:

  • Lesbians experience high levels of stress. (Populations that report high levels of stress tend to also report higher levels of smoking).4
  • Since the 1980ís evidence shows that the tobacco industry has targeted gay and lesbians via marketing, and promoting LGBT events.4 ¬†
  • Bars, commonly associated with smoking, are often environments for gays and lesbians because they are often discriminated against in other settings.4 ¬†
  • Smoking rates are higher in adolescent and adult lesbians than the greater population.4
  • Research reported that the lesbians and bisexuals under 50 were more likely than heterosexuals to engage in cigarette smoking and heavy drinking.2
  • Lesbians and bisexual women between 20-34 were reported to smoke and drink more on a weekly basis than older lesbian and bisexual women. Therefore it was concluded that lesbian and bisexual women between 20-34 were at greater risk for smoking and drinking.2

In a report by Sarah Albert, it was stated that while 80 percent of all adults tried to kick the habit, 75 percent of LGBT smokers stated they tried to stop. She also explained the Harris survey reports that LGBT smokers are more aware of the health risks associated with smoking than heterosexual smokers. Also, more LGBT smokers reported that they believed smoking could increase chances of lung cancer, heart disease, and could shorten their lives than heterosexual smokers.1

To decrease the amount of smoking in the lesbian community, more than education geared on hazardous health conditions needs to be targeted. Since many lesbians know that smoking can lead to poor health, we need to also pay close attention to how cigarettes are advertised, how issues of homophobia and other stressors may drive some to smoke, the role peer pressure has among lesbian smokers, how smoking can is as a tool to socialize (especially in the bar/club scene), and what satisfaction lesbian and bisexual women receive from smoking. It is possible that if these issues are better understood, outreach programs could be created to prevent people from taking their first puff, or to help those who want to kick the habit.


1 Albert, S. Lesbians and Gays More Likely to Smoke, Survey Says.
Gay Health.com
Retrieved from web site on 8/20/03.

2 Gruskin E.; Hart S, Gordon N.; Ackerson L. Patterns of cigarette smoking and alcohol use among lesbians and bisexual women enrolled in a large health maintenance organization. Am J Public Health. June;91(6):976-9, 2001.

3 Hughes TL, Jacobson KM. Sexual orientation and women's smoking. Curr Womens Health Rep. Jun. 3(3):254-61, 2003.

4 Ryan, H; Wortley, P; Easton, A; Pederson. L; and Greenwood, G. Smoking among lesbians, gays, and bisexuals: a review of the literature. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2001.


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