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Health Canada rejects program to help queers quit smoking

PROBLEM IN COMMON. According to Rainbow Services' Jim Cullen queer women tend to struggle with alcohol while queer men are more likely to struggle with alcohol, cocaine and other drugs. Credit: Ablestock

A program to help Toronto queers stop smoking won’t be running this year due to a lack of funding by Health Canada.

“It’s really regrettable that the project hasn’t been funded,” says Michele Clarke, health promoter for the LGBT Program at the Sherbourne Health Centre (SHC). “We previously had funding from [the provincial ministry of health promotion] Smokefree Ontario and we developed and ran the Bent on Quitting program for two years. But that funding came to an end and we were trying to get a more stable source, given the interest, demand and success of the program. This was a well-attended program and the need for something like this is great.”

Bent on Quitting ? described by organizers as the first program of its kind in Toronto ? is a smoking-cessation program aimed specially at queer smokers. The eight-week program was developed and operated by the Rainbow Tobacco Intervention Project a coalition of groups including SHC, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Canadian Cancer Society. Organizers of the two-year-old program attempted to get funding from Health Canada for continued programming, but were unsuccessful in their bid.

“[The proposal] seemed to make its way all the way to the top to the Deputy Minister’s Office where it was refused,” says Jim Cullen, clinic head and manager at Rainbow Services at CAMH.

Ironically, Cullen says CAHM was approached by the federal government to submit a proposal for the program.

“We put together the official proposal for the amount of money that it would cost to deliver the program. We submitted it and were told it was great… and then it got turned down. Apparently the [queer] population wasn’t significantly large enough to warrant the project.”

Health Canada’s media relations officer Philippe Laroche wasn’t able to offer a response to Xtra by press time, saying his office needed more time to review the situation before commenting on it.

While there was a decline over the years in smoking rates among the general Canadian population the rate of smoking among queers remains high. While 28 percent of the general adult population reported smoking queer smoking rates are estimated at being closer to 50 percent. Research suggests factors such as homophobia, stress and social isolation as well as smoking to “fit in” or to meet friends is to blame for the higher rates of queers lighting up.

According to information on Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long Term Care website it’s estimated that 16,000 Ontarians die each year as a result of tobacco use. Still the threat of illness from tobacco use may not be as significant as some of the daily occurrences that some queers may have to face.

“I think for a lot of people other threats seem much more relevant and close at hand than tobacco,” says Clarke. “That it doesn’t seem such a big deal when you have to deal with issues like violence or being kicked out of your home.”