Although Kimber White grew up in a smoking family on a North Carolina tobacco farm, his addiction to cigarettes never went much past the off and on phase. But after White, 56, came out at age 30, that’s when he says his addiction became serious and ultimately life-threatening.
“I started smoking regularly after I came out at 30 which was also the time I started going to gay bars.” By the time he had a mild stroke five years ago, White was up to three packs a day. “I hate to say this but I think the gay community has more of an addictive personality . . . more than the heterosexual community.”
Statistics and several studies back up White’s experience.
According to the CDC, 26.6 percent of LGBT individuals smoke as compared to 17.6 percent of heterosexual individuals. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, smoking among gay men was 55 percent higher than heterosexual men. Smoking among lesbians was 70 percent higher than heterosexual women.
The main cause? According to the CDC and former LGBT smokers, it’s stress. Studies have also found similar differences in smoking rates between military veterans and active duty personnel as compared to civilians. Stress is also cited as the culprit.
Dr. Richard Travis, a Fort Lauderdale psychotherapist who has written several books about addiction within the LGBT community, said LGBT individuals tend to smoke more because of the stress put upon them by society for who they are.
“Negative beliefs are internalized by individuals. That leads to feelings of shame and guilt. Substance abuse is a coping mechanism to deal with those feelings,” said Travis. Coping, for many in the LGBT community, also means higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse. “We medicate our feelings,” Travis said.
White said he also had trouble with alcohol. Having also kicked his alcohol habit, White says smoking was, by far, the hardest to give up. After he stopped drinking eight years ago, he said he smoked more to compensate.
“A lot of people in recovery, they’ll trade addictions. “It is a gay thing. They’ll go to the gym, they’ll be so healthy and they’ll smoke. That amazes me more than anything.”
In his book, “Addiction in the LGBTQ Community,” Travis writes that smoking prevention programs must be tailored to address the root of the problem and encourage LGBT individuals to develop a positive self-image.
For those trying to quit, the Area Health Education Center [AHEC] through a grant by the state legislature, offers free smoking cessation courses which include free nicotine products, such as gum, lozenges and patches, as well as counseling.
Bob Weiss, a tobacco cessation specialist with Nova Southeastern University and representative for AHEC, said the courses are an effort by the Florida Department of Health to reach out to groups most at risk.
Two options are available: a two-hour session where participants learn how to develop their own plan to quit or participants meet once a week over a period of six weeks.
The Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors is one location where cessation courses take place but companies and organizations can have a course brought to them if a minimum of 8 to 10 individuals sign up. “We can bring it to you,” said Weiss. “We’re increasing our efforts to target the gay community. We’re here and we’re committed to helping all people to live a full life.”
Visit ahectobacco.com/calendar for a list of smoking cessation courses provided in Wilton Manors and other cities in Broward County.