imageIt takes just a few minutes in one of Atlanta’s LGBT bars to realize this: Smoking is an issue for the gays. A new study puts an exclamation point on the observation and provides some insights into why.

The study from the Atlanta Lesbian Health Initiative – you know, the ladies with the boobs in a bag – recently wrapped, bringing an end to research conducted thanks to an $85,000 grant funneled through the Georgia Tobacco Use Prevention Program and the DeKalb County Board of Health. The purpose? Survey attitudes about the use of tobacco and daily smoking habits among LGBT Atlantans to help develop ways to promote smoke-free efforts and reduce exposure to secondhand smoke.

The results? Tobacco use is a serious issue among LGBT people. And while they recognize the harmful consequences of tobacco use and second-hand smoke, those same people don’t know the gays are disproportionately affected by tobacco’s ills. Non-smokers and their smoking brethren both favored smoke-free spaces.

The study also showed that few LGBT organizations, bars and businesses have policies addressing smoking and tobacco use.

“This last year’s concentrated effort on tobacco use in our community has been enlightening,” Linda Ellis (top photo), ALHI’s executive director, says in a prepared statement. “It’s good to be able to confront such a significant health risk for our community, and have the larger public health community’s support as we do so. We are looking forward to working with the State of Georgia, DeKalb County and other governmental and health organizations in the coming months and years on this and other health-related efforts.”

5 ways to beat back LGBT smoking

imageThe study includes five recommendations:

Create audience-appropriate educational programs to raise awareness of the LGBT smoking disparity, healthy living practices, and appropriate resources.

Work with organization leaders and bar, restaurant, and business owners to increase smoke-free space, limit their participation in the promotion of cigarettes, and encourage their promotion of healthy eating and physical activity.

Develop a smoking cessation program oriented specifically to the LGBT community.

Participate in mainstream advocacy for smoke-free space and related initiatives.

Increase awareness of and compliance with the Georgia Smoke free Air Act and DeKalb County Clean Air Ordinance.

The study included 37 people in four focus groups that included LGBT current and former smokers, as well as non-smokers. The focus groups included gay men, lesbians and transgender people, as well as blacks and whites. It also pulled from surveys of 685 people.

Why do gays smoke more than other groups of people? Details gleaned from the focus groups point, in part, to “within the LGBT community, social norms surrounding smoking are even more tolerant and positive than in the larger society.”

“Many current and former smokers noted that the influence of peers, especially in the LGBT bar culture, had shaped their own smoking behavior,” according to the study. “Some current smokers claimed that they did not start smoking until they came out and started going to gay bars.”

Smoking is also a coping mechanism for LGBT smokers, focus group participants say.

“Another former smoker noted the following —‘smoking’ is a coping mechanism for a lot of gays and lesbians. That’s how they managed to cope, to calm down from their anxieties, from all of the pressure,” according to the study.

Smoking should be banned at bars, Pride

Among those surveyed for the study, more than 25 percent were current smokers and over half were overweight and obese. Tobacco ranked eighth out of 10 health issues for LGBT people.

Other findings from the survey:

The vast majority did not allow smoking inside their homes, almost half indicated that smoking should not be allowed at all in workplaces or bars and restaurants, and over one third did not think smoking should be permitted at pride events.

Respondents did not think the tobacco industry has been a friend to the LGBT community, but few disagreed that there is nothing wrong with LGBT organizations, bars or nightclubs accepting tobacco money.

On April 26, ALHI partners with DeKalb health officials to offer free training for the public on becoming smoke-free advocates. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Rush Center, which houses ALHI and recently completed a $25,000 renovation and expansion. (The training is free but .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).)

ALHI is also partnering with a collection of groups that work with African-American lesbians to craft healthcare programs that reach out to masculine-identified woman, also known as studs.