Monica Roberts

Smokin'

Filed By Monica Roberts | March 16, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: GLBT, Monica Roberts, smoking

When I began going out to Houston clubs not long after my 18th birthday in 1980, sean young_BR rachel.jpgone of the things I noticed was that when I compared and contrasted my experiences in GLBT clubs vis a vis non GLBT ones there were far more smokers in the GLBT ones.

I thought I was imagining things at first, but I noted that as I began to travel and visit gay and straight clubs around the country during the 80's and 90's, the pattern I noticed in Houston was replicated in every city I visited. It was also consistent across GLBT race and gender lines in those communities as well.

It turns out I wasn't imagining things. According to the National LGBT Tobacco Control Network based in Boston. members of the LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) community are 35 to 200 percent more likely to be smokers than the general public.

I'm a non-smoker, and fortunately for me Houston instituted a non-smoking ordinance in restaurants, bars and workplaces back in the 90's, so I was accustomed to relatively smoke free environments.

When I moved to Louisville, it didn't have such a ban until 2007 mainly because it's a tobacco-growing state. Not long after I moved here in 2001 I went to one of the local GLBT clubs. The secondhand smoke cloud permeating the building was so bad I had to step outside after twenty minutes so my eyes would stop watering and get some needed fresh air.

I finally gave up after an hour and went home. To add to my pissivity the clothes I wore from that night out smelled like a cigarette factory for three days.

So why does the GLBT community have higher smoking rates than the straight community?

kristanna-loken-advocate-magazine-jan2007.pngIt's a combination of factors. The additional stress of being a GLBT person in an at times hostile world, the perception that smoking is "cool" or "supports our civil rights struggle" thanks to advertising targeting our community from cigarette companies and the centrality of smoking as an integral part of the GLBT club and bar scene.

It wasn't by accident it happened. Go to any GLBT community event, festival, organizational fundraiser or read GLBT media and nine times out of ten you'll see a cigarette company has some promotional tie to it or cigarette ads plastered all over it.

With that cash came disrespect. Early tobacco company documents that laid out their plans for increasing smoking amongst the San Francisco gay and homeless populations were called "Project SCUM."

There's also been an alarming rise in the numbers of young GLBT people who smoke as well. A recent study noted that 45% of females and 35% of males reporting same-sex attraction or behavior smoked in comparison to only 29% of non GLBT youth being smokers.

But when you have a community that has barriers to health care due to documented discrimination against it and the pack you're smoking today could lead to cancer tomorrow, it's also cutting GLBT lives short. It's also why some groups are working diligently to help bring those numbers down and help GLBT people who wish to quit smoking to do so.


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Anthony in Nashville | March 16, 2009 11:27 AM

I agree that LGBTs tend to smoke at a higher proportion than straights, and it may be a function of increased stress. For ms, I didn't start smoking until I started going out to clubs and drinking.

You can probably apply the same observations to alcohol. They are definitely some of the biggest sponsors of events, and I would bet that LGBTs have a higher rate of alcoholism compared to straights as well.

Let's see, Monica, you're a S.F. fan, aren't you?

Maybe that's why you used the shot of Sean Young in Blade Runner as your first photo illustrating how cool it is to smoke. I luv it! Decker (Harrison Ford) is running an eye response test to determine whether she is a replicant (a biologically manufactured robot-human), and is about to ask her if it would be OK if her husband posted up a photo of a naked woman. Eventually, she replies angrily, "Are you testing whether I am a replicant or whether I'm a lesbian, Mr. Decker?" It's a classic moment in sci-fi film history, and one of my favorites!

But I digress ...

I'm not surprised that the tobacco/alcohol industry has targeted the gay world, since alcohol was once illegal and so, once, was homosexuality. In the early 20th Century we gathered in secret underground haunts --- any surprise that they were literally "smoked-filled rooms"? Breaking one law about private living prepares one for breaking others, and once a gay man had found his underground network, progressing on to speakeasies, tobacco, and drugs because another way to give the finger to the ruling status quo. Smoking has always been a way for teenagers, straight or gay, to rebel against parents, and gay adults carry this rebellion long beyond the establishment of the freeodm of independence --- is it because we never come to feel completely free?

I've always hated all that smoke in gay bars, but now I frequent them so rarely it's hardly a peeve. But I did visit The Connection there in Louisville on Saturday night, and indeed, noticed anew that Louisville is "Smoke City".

I don't know if the "internalized homophobia" theory has all that much merit today, but smoking is yet another self-destructive habit we embrace without clear thinking.

I don't smoke ... but I have other vices where exactly the same analyses apply.

A few years ago, I attended a showing of a couple of LGBT documentary films in Philadelphia at the LGBT Center. In between movies, fully 75% of the LGBT-heavy on the T audience got up from their seats and went out to the smoking patio to light up. I've never seen a place so filled with people clear out so quickly of one space and fill up another.

I'm a smoker, and I was a smoker long before I came out. It's one of my coping mechanisms, and the one that's proven to be the hardest crutch to throw away. Kicking booze and pills was a picnic compared to quitting smoking. I often joke that I'm an expert in quitting smoking because I've done it eight times so far.

I know why I smoke: to deal with stress. I also know smoking isn't a healthy way of dealing with stress. One of these days, I'll try again.

One of these days...

Anthony AJ,
Yep, I'm a huge sci-fi fan and will glued in front of the TV Friday night for Battlestar Galactica's final episode. I also own the director's cut of Blade Runner and that scene did cross my mind as i was looking for a shot to illustrate the post.

Yes, not only do GLBT peeps smoke at higher rates in proportion to the rest of the population, we drink at much higher rates as well.

I'm not advocating either way in this one, it was just an observation that I wanted to get some healthy discussion started here as to the why we do so.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 16, 2009 6:18 PM

Smoking, drug use, drinking, unsafe sex, overeating and even faster forms or suicide are byproducts of the stress of being second class citizens and the butt of a national joke.

The way to counter it is to live your life in the struggle for equality. It’s better than a valium and a lot cheaper.

AJ, not to defend the Connection (I, too, never go to clubs for a good number of reasons), but if it was smoky in there this past weekend, then laws were being violated.

I know that smoking is one reason I don't frequent clubs, and for many of the same reasons Monica outlined: I just don't like the smell of smoke, unless it's hickory or mesquite and it's being used to smoke ribs or brisket. I won't go into the health hazards, many though they are reputed to be; i just find it annoying, and I am grateful that my wife quit smoking about a year ago. Given the general condescension the tobacco manufacturers give the public in general, it surprises me not a bit that they're targeting the GLBT community. In fact, I bet they joke about killing us all off that much quicker, while they write their checks to the GOP.

As for alcohol, I have spoken a number of times to hotel personnel and management during transgender conventions. Nearly to a person, they've all alluded to the fact that a T convention equals extraordinarily good bar business, normally over twice what a convention of the same number of attendees would be expected to do. We don't generally put much of a whack on the top-shelf stuff, but we clean out the beer, wine, cordials, liqueurs, and white liquors. And, weirdly enough, we tend to tip well, as we should.

A. J. Lopp | March 18, 2009 3:39 PM

Actually I am guilty of a typo --- I meant to say "a recent Saturday night" but the way I typed it out, my comment implies "last Saturday night". It was actually a Saturday night in January or early February.

The smokiest part at the Connection was the theater where the drag show was performing. The smoke was so thick, I could only stay for about ten minutes. Out along the front bar counter the air was much better.

And ... laws were being broken, you say? ... Surely not! In a huge gay bar ... that probably has the local police department on the take? ... Why, I can't imagine such a thing!

The first gay bar I went to here in France 4 years ago was not at all the first bar I went into generally, but was the first that had my lungs in pain for the next two days. It was so filled with smoke, and I was having such a good time despite that, so I stayed and then paid the price for my second-hand smoke. Fortunately France banned smoking in bars and restaurants.

I live with two gay men now (my boyfriend and his roommate) and one smokes, the other just quit on my account. I've noticed too that we smoke a whole lot more than our straight counterparts, and magazine covers like the one from the Advocate above are incredibly irresponsible.

I'm a smoker. Jerame's not. I call him my Smoking Nazi because he constantly complains about my habit - the cost, the smell of the smoke, all of it. It's caused some of our biggest fights actually.

I also live in Louisville. I also worked for Kentucky state government - that is until May last year. I did not believe state government would ever take a non-smoking position in state office buildings, not in this tobacco growing state. They did in the late 1990'.

Louisville once was home to five tobacco factories. I was so thankful the day the city passed a non-smoking ordinance. Though I do not frequent gay bars, or really any bars, I am thankful that on those rare occasions I do go I am not confronted with blue haze.

Growing up in a family in which both my parents smoked, I am grateful not to be exposed by second-hand smoke. Smoking took both my parents lives.

Gillian