Smokescreen: Cigarettes, HIV, and the LGBT Community

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Today’s medical treatments have dramatically increased the lifespan of HIV+ persons, so it’s easy to forget that smoking cigarettes can affect this group more than those without HIV. Tobacco negatively impacts both immune function and virologic control. In fact, a Danish study showed that HIV+ people who smoke and have full access to medical care lost more years of their life to cigarette smoking than to their HIV. According to the Center for Disease Control, the smoking rate among gays and bisexuals in the U.S. last year was 27.7 percent, compared to 17.3 percent among heterosexuals. Once the smoking habit is acquired, LGBT persons who smoke are less responsive to generalized smoking reduction and cessation programs than heterosexual persons. With all that we know about the dangers of cigarette smoking, why does the LGBT community continue to light up?

Persona and Identity Factors

The Journal of Nicotine & Tobacco Research found that smoking can have a unique cultural function for LGBT persons. Having a partner who smokes can increase the risk of smoking five-fold. Though mainstream attitudes and ideals are changing toward the LGBT community, there can still be stigma attached to the lifestyle. Having become accustomed to living in defiance of pressures to change behaviors can lead to the initial rejection of sound medical advice as well. Researchers also point to the psychological themes of navigating life, the complexity of managing identity, and the social pressure to smoke as key factors that keep the LGBT community and HIV+ persons reaching for cigarettes.

Support and Community

Having positive influences from life partners, family members, or close friends can increase your chances of quitting by 20%. An active and supportive LGBT community is right here in Austin! Check out our upcoming events and meet fellow LGBT persons who can provide experience and support to reach your goals.

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