A recent study of Toronto queers has confirmed what homo healthcare advocates already feared: If you’re a ‘mo you’re almost twice as likely to smoke as your straight counterpart.
“It’s probably the most serious health threat that we face but the public awareness is not yet there,” says Michele Clarke, a health promoter at the Sherbourne Health Centre (SHC).
According to the results of the Toronto Rainbow Tobacco Survey, a whopping 36 percent of local queer and trans people are daily smokers, 25 percent have kicked the habit and 39 percent have never been smokers.
While the Toronto Rainbow Tobacco Survey didn’t query straight folks, earlier studies show that approximately 17 percent of the general population in Toronto smokes, roughly half the queer rate.
“Tobacco related-illness is the number one killer of Canadians; 16,000 people in Ontario will die from tobacco-related illness this year. We don’t know how many of these people are LGBTTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgendered, queer] but it makes sense that we’re overrated in death.”
The numbers are even worse among younger queers.
“The rates in the under 25 population are really really high,” says Clarke. The Rainbow Tobacco Survey “showed that of those between 15 to 19, 57 percent smoke and of those between 20 to 24, 44 percent smoke,” compared to less than 20 percent of youth under the age of 25 in the general population.
Young women also smoke more than young men, something that researchers want to follow up on.
While the results echo earlier studies done in BC and across the US, all of which have found that queers are at a higher risk for tobacco use than the general population, there were some surprises.
“It was surprising to see the differences between the different sexual orientation identity groups,” says Clarke.
While there isn’t much of a difference between the smoking rates of gay men and lesbians — 33 percent and 34 percent, respectively — bisexuals are significantly more likely to smoke with a staggeringly high rate of 45 percent.
Other surprising findings related to the number of cigarettes smoked in a day by different groups, with older queers smoking the most overall. In the under-25 group, trans men were found to smoke more cigarettes per day than their peers, while females under 25 smoke significantly more than their male counterparts.
The purpose of the Rainbow Tobacco Intervention Project — convened by a coalition of agencies including SHC, the Rainbow Health Network, Toronto Public Health and the Council For A Tobacco-Free Toronto — was to determine prevalence of smoking among Toronto homos and to address the lack of data on smoking among the bisexual and trans populations.
Clarke says the results of this survey will be useful for seeking funding to continue and expand local antismoking campaigns directed specifically toward queers. A few such programs began last year in Toronto and were available through the Centre For Addiction And Mental Health, the Sherbourne Health Centre and Toronto Public Health.
The study, which cost approximately $3,000 plus staff time, advertised locally through print ads, queer websites and had research assistants polling during Pride weekend. Participants responded via an on-line survey or filled out postcard surveys.
In total 4,080 people responded, but only the responses from the 3,140 respondents who were Toronto residents were included in the results. The median age was 34 with respondents’ ages ranging from 13 to 91.