|by Anthony Campo, LGBT HealthLink
Every June, during Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, I am reminded of LGBT leaders that came before me like Harvey Milk and watershed moments in our movement such as the Stonewall Riots. The month of June is a time to celebrate the advances toward equality that we have made but also to reflect on the inequities that continue to persist.
As the Education, Training, and Outreach Manager for LGBT HealthLink, a CDC-funded program of CenterLink that works to address LGBT tobacco and cancer related health disparities, my mind turns to health equity and the often-overlooked fact that the LGBT community remains among the groups most affected by tobacco.
According to the CDC, in the United States, smoking prevalence among LGBT individuals is higher than among the total population, resulting in part from aggressive marketing of tobacco products to these communities and LGBT-specific risk factors such as daily stress from social stigma and discrimination.
Yet, another overlooked topic is the role geography plays when considering the LGBT tobacco disparity. According to Dr. Regina Washington, Director of LGBT HealthLink, “Where you live, work, play, and learn matters because geography and health outcomes are inextricably linked. Where you live should not determine how long you live.”
Indeed, LGBT individuals living in one region of the country may have increased access to tobacco compared to those in another region due in part to local policies and ordinances in place. For example, in Hawaii and California, the legal age to purchase tobacco products is 21 compared to 18 in most other states in the US, and the movement to raise the legal age is known as Tobacco21.
The vast majority of smokers begin using tobacco during youth, and we know that increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco is associated with lower rates of smoking prevalence including among the LGBT population. Indeed, limiting access can be a catalyst to help smokers quit and prevent uptake in the first place.
This June, think about where you show your pride, because your geographic location will likely play a role in your health outcomes. While our thoughts during Pride Month may focus on other issues facing LGBT communities, we must also consider the issue of health equity and acknowledge the role of geography in addressing LGBT health and tobacco disparities. I encourage each of you to learn more about the Tobacco21 movement and the ways in which you can support this effort in your local community.
LGBT HealthLink provides trainings and technical assistance to public health officials, health systems and providers, and community-based organizations. To learn more and access LGBT HealthLink resources and educational materials, join our free membership!