Study finds lesbian and bisexual girls are at heightened risk for tobacco use


Researchers say prevention efforts are particularly important when working with girls

A new study has found that lesbian and bisexual girls may be among the hardest hit by tobacco among the nation's young people. Led by researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the study appears in the April issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Using data from adolescents participating in the Growing Up Today Study, an ongoing national health study of more than 16,000 adolescents in the U.S., researchers found that lesbian and bisexual girls ages 12 to 17 were almost 10 times more likely to say they smoke weekly compared to heterosexual girls of the same age. Almost 40 percent of lesbian and bisexual girls reported that they smoked weekly compared to only 6 percent of heterosexual girls in the study who reported weekly smoking. Lesbian and bisexual girls also were about 60 percent more likely than heterosexual girls to say they would be willing to use tobacco promotional merchandise, such as hats, T-shirts and bags. Gay and bisexual boys in the study were not more likely to smoke compared to heterosexual boys.

Girls and boys in the Growing Up Today Study, conducted primarily though Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, are surveyed annually about a wide variety of health concerns. The Children's Hospital Boston study was based on surveys completed by 10,685 girls and boys in 1999. Researchers then looked at why this trend was happening in this adolescent group. Despite extensive public health efforts to prevent smoking and encourage smoking cessation, the tobacco industry has created marketing that specifically targets women. Though these products cannot be "legally" promoted or sold to minors, cigarettes and tobacco promotional items end up in the hands of millions of adolescents every year.

"We were surprised by the very high rates of smoking by lesbian and bisexual teenage girls," said lead author S. Bryn Austin, a researcher at Children's Hospital Boston, and who holds a doctorate in public health. "Antigay stigma and harassment, rejection from family, friends, peers and sometimes even physical violence can create a hostile environment for many young people coming to terms with their sexual orientation. This combined with the tobacco industry's targeted marketing to lesbian and gay communities is putting lesbian and bisexual girls in harm's way. We are concerned that these girls may be slipping under the radar screen when it comes to tobacco prevention efforts in schools and communities. More needs to be done to protect these girls and to address the social issues that may lead to there increased tobacco use."

Researchers also found that given the frequency of smoking, coupled with high scores on the tobacco dependence index, it is unlikely that the lesbian and bisexual girls in the study were experimenting or casual smokers. Furthermore, it is likely that these girls are addicted to nicotine or are moving in that direction.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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