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LGBT Smoking

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are two to three times more likely to start smoking as their straight peers. Although their reasons for smoking may be similar, LGBT youth are also dealing with other issues, such as figuring out who they are and where they fit in, dealing with hostile environments, and being directly targeted with marketing from tobacco companies. Learn more about these and other LGBT issues and how to deal without smoking.


Express Yourself

As a teen, you’re trying to figure out who you are and who you want to be. As an LGBT teen, you may also be struggling with your sexual orientation and gender identity. Maybe your friends and family have been accepting and supportive of you being LGBT. Maybe you haven’t told anyone. Maybe you’ve been picked on, bullied, harassed, called names, or worse. No matter where you are in the process of coming out, and no matter what reactions you’ve gotten from people you’ve told, it can be hard to figure out who you are and where you fit in.

Although being LGBT is part of who you are, it’s not the only thing that defines you.
Independent and Connected

One of the biggest challenges teens face is creating a balance between wanting to be independent with wanting to feel connected. You may want to be your own person, make decisions for yourself and blaze your own trail. But you may also find that your social relationships are more important than ever. Whether it is the connections you have with friends, a romantic partner, your parents, or siblings, as much as you want to be independent, you also want to feel close to and understood by the important people in your life. Being LGBT adds a layer to this. Maybe you’re the only LGBT person you know, and that can make you feel lonely or even scared. It could also be really empowering. Maybe you have a great group of LGBT friends, but your way of expressing yourself or being “out” with your sexual orientation is different than theirs.

Figuring out What’s Important to You

A big part of expressing yourself involves knowing what is important to you, or what you value. Are there political issues that you feel really passionate about? Would you drop everything to help out a friend? Do you spend hours looking at an art exhibit or going to open mic night at your favorite coffee shop? What are your career goals? Is dinner with your family the most important part of your day? The things that are important to you are the things you make time for—the things that you want to have front and center in your world. And they shape how you think about who you are and who you want to be.

Trying On Identities

“Trying on” different identities is one way to figure out who you are and what’s important to you. Maybe smoking is an identity you’re trying out. Maybe it makes you feel independent or unique. Maybe you think smoking helps you fit in or makes you look more sophisticated. The thing about smoking is that it may seem like it makes you more independent at first, but before you know it, you’re hooked. And then cigarettes are making the decisions—not you.


Think about who you are and who you want to be.
What’s important and valuable to you? How does smoking help? How does smoking get in the way of you being who you want to be? Try on identities that make a statement about what’s most important to you, who you are, and who you want to be. If it’s important for you to show confidence, try doing it through your clothes or how you- carry yourself. Self-expression can also mean opening up to friends through a blog, artwork, or music.


Dealing with Stress

You have a lot going on in your life.
Between school, work, family, and friends, sometimes it can feel like a lot to handle. Lots of teens smoke to deal with stress. It might feel like smoking helps at first, but you’ve probably learned by now – from your own experience – that the stress is still there after the initial effects of smoking wear off. So what else can you do?

Understanding What Makes You Feel Stressed

Different things stress people out in different ways and in different amounts. Sometimes a bunch of little stresses can really add up. Being LGBT means you have to deal with some stresses that your non-LGBT friends might not be dealing with. Perhaps you’re struggling with being comfortable with your LGBT identity. Or maybe the people around you haven’t been very accepting or encouraging. It’s hard when you don’t feel supported by the people who are most important to you. And it’s hard to feel like others aren’t on the same page as you are—like they don’t really get who you are and where you’re coming from. You might feel betrayed and lonely. Sometimes the judgments of others sound a lot like your own judgments—and it can be surprising how loud it sounds.

When you’re stressed, your emotions and reactions can feel out of control.
It’s like you don’t know if you’ll laugh or cry or yell from one minute to the next. Take a step back to consider what you’re feeling stressed about or reacting to. Sometimes it’s what’s happening in the moment and other times it’s stuff you might not be aware of. Understanding what makes you feel stressed is a first step toward taking charge and dealing with it.

Remember RAIN

RAIN is a great tool that might help you to better understand and deal with stress in a way that empowers you and is longer lasting that what you get from cigarettes.

  • Recognize what is happening: Focus on your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Notice how your body responds. Is your heart racing? Are you holding your breath? Clenching your teeth?
  • Allow life to be just as it is: You might want to push away the thoughts and feelings you’re having because they’re so uncomfortable. Give yourself the OK to feel what you’re feeling and think what you’re thinking.
  • Investigate inner experience with kindness: Sometimes “Recognize” and “Allow” are enough to relieve some of the stress. Other times you need to dig deeper. Investigating with kindness means exploring more of what you’re feeling and sensing—without beating yourself up over it.
  • Non-identification: Dealing with stress involves a balance between acknowledging what you’re experiencing but not connecting that experience with who you are. You are not defined by the things going on around you.

Tip: Identify allies who can help you figure out how to lower your stress. Channel stress into positive activities that help the LGBT Community. The Gay-Straight Alliance Network External link disclaimer has local and national events you can get involved with. If you need a LGBT quit smoking community, try the National LBGT Tobacco Control Network External link disclaimer to get started.


Fitting In

Feeling awkward? Everyone feels awkward sometimes—even the people who seem completely confident and popular. In addition to trying to figure out who you are, being a teen also means figuring out where you fit in and where you want to fit in. This can be extra challenging as an LGBT teen. You might be the only LGBT person you know. You might be the only person in your group of LGBT friends who has come out—or you might be the only one who hasn’t come out. And although it’s fun to show off your unique qualities, sometimes it can feel like you’re standing out in all the wrong ways.

For a lot of teens, smoking can be something you do to fit in.
Maybe you feel like smoking relaxes you and you feel less awkward. Maybe your friends smoke, and smoking is just something you all do when you’re hanging out. Or maybe you feel really lonely and isolated, and the most reliable “friends” in your life are cigarettes. Take a step back and ask yourself:

What does “fitting in” mean to you?
What would it take for you to feel like you fit in?
  • Think about your relationship style. Do you like to have lots of people around you all the time? Or do you prefer smaller groups of people you feel really close to? Fitting in isn’t all about numbers. Whether you have a big group of friends or just a few close friends, connect with people who support you and help you to feel comfortable with who you are and who you want to be.
  • Who are the people you like spending time with the most? What do you like about them? What things do you have in common? How are you different? How do you feel when you’re with them?

If you’re feeling lonely, sometimes it helps to think about the ways you already fit in instead of focusing on how you stand out. Think about the people you enjoy and what you enjoy about them. Build relationships with people who build you up, and don’t let smoking get in the way.

Tips: Trying to find ways to fit in or meet new people? Join a group with people who share similar interests. Check out your school for new activities, or volunteer with organizations like the Trevor Project External link disclaimer or check out the LGBT center in your community or the Gay-Straight Alliance at your school.


Marketing to the LGBT community

There are many reasons why LGBT teens are more likely to smoke (being LGBT can add additional stress and challenges to fitting in and finding yourself as a teen), but another reason is that tobacco companies specifically target you as part of the LGBT community. Maybe you’ve noticed tobacco companies sponsor LGBT events like Pride parades. They run ads in magazines that you are likely to read and at clubs, theaters and other places you go. Some of the ads are direct, but sometimes they’re more subtle. Whether it’s a billboard that promotes being who you are (with the support of a tobacco product), showing images of LGBT couples smoking, or altering brand logos to reflect the rainbow flag, it’s not always obvious that tobacco companies are trying to lure you in to become addicted to their product and their brand.

You have the power to take charge....
and not be manipulated by tobacco companies.

Know the facts:

  • Tobacco companies spend $24 million a day ($8 billion a year!) in advertising.
  • In 2010, the tobacco industry spent $16.6 million lobbying Congress to convince policy makers that tobacco companies should be allowed to advertise to whoever they want in whatever ways they want and that they don’t need to warn people about the dangers of smoking.
  • For the past 15 years, Altria (America’s leading cigarette manufacturer and maker of Marlboro and Virginia Slims) has spent more money lobbying Congress than almost any other business

Tip: Don’t let the tobacco companies mislead you. Take action and join a positive movement, not a negative one (like smoking). Check out the It Gets Better Project External link disclaimer and empower yourself and the LGBT community.