LGBT Youth Speaks Out

Kevin Avila, LGBT Smoke-Free Project Intern at The Center

Kevin Avila, LGBT Smoke-Free Project Intern at The Center

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, in 2011, smoking rates among lesbian and gay youth were over three times higher when compared with heterosexual youth.

The Coalition works with organizations, including the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Community Center (The Center) in NYC, to reduce LGBT smoking rates. A group of LGBT youth are working with The Center‘s LGBT Smoke-Free Project to raise awareness about the disproportionate impact of tobacco among their peers and in their community.

Kevin Avila, our guest blogger, is a LGBT Smoke-Free Project Intern.  He shares his insight and asks members of the LGBT community to join the fight against Big Tobacco:

“As a non-smoker, I don’t understand why people would inhale something that is so dangerous to their bodies.  We all know smoking kills, yet there are still so many people who light up and get hooked.

It pains me when I see my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) friends smoke I know what nicotine and all those other harmful ingredients are doing to their systems. People who identify as LGBTQ are up to 70[BS1]  percent more likely to smoke, often turning to cigarettes to relieve stress caused by the risk of homelessness, bullying, poverty, discrimination, peer pressure and rejection by family and friends. LGBTQ people must often confront homophobia and hostility in their daily lives, and that stress can lead to higher smoking rates — especially when they are young.

In addition to the everyday stressors that make LGBTQ youth more likely to smoke, having cigarettes everywhere – in bodegas, pharmacies, convenience stores, street corners, TV shows, movies, magazines, etc. – normalizes smoking and cigarettes,  Cigarettes become part of everyday life and that can increase the likelihood of LGBTQ youth becoming smokers.

So how can a non-smoker, like me, help my friends and others who smoke? I believe we need to work to reduce the amount of aggressive tobacco marketing at the counter where purchases are made.  Reducing youth exposure to tobacco marketing is crucial to protect all youth, including LGBTQ youth, and help to prevent them from becoming smokers. We can also work to reduce the visibility of tobacco products in stores and pharmacies.

Nearly ninety percent of regular smokers start before the age of 18. In Manhattan, 4,000 public high school students currently smoke, and one out of three of them will die prematurely as a direct result of smoking. Getting sick and dying while the tobacco industry gets all the money seems disgusting to me. So by advocating for reducing youth’s exposure to tobacco marketing and products, we are not only making our voices heard, but also letting these companies know that we are reclaiming our health.

Please join me in saying no to Big Tobacco and their manipulative marketing tactics by going to your local community organization or community board and making your voice be heard.  Together, let’s use our voice to help our loved ones quit and prevent kids from smoking by showing them what lies behind the Big Tobacco curtain. We are not just money in their big pockets.”