When I began going out to Houston clubs not long after my 18th birthday in 1980, one 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?
It'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.