LGBT Americans spend more on cigarettes than all LGBT advocacy causes combined, according to new estimates provided to BuzzFeed Thursday by the Network for LGBT Health Equity.
"It's a brutal truth," said Dr. Scout, the network's director, of the findings. "We're spending more on something that kills us than everyone else is spending to help us."
The statistics come just ahead of the release of the 50th Anniversary Surgeon General's Report on Tobacco and Health, which details the impacts of smoking. And while smoking is "far and beyond" the biggest health problem LGBT populations face, cracking down on smoking in these communities is often overshadowed by suicide and HIV prevention, Scout said.
"We've known this for a while, and we've been trying to convince people that it's a big deal," Scout said. "We [as a community] are actually good on health — we do a lot of stuff to make ourselves better. So, it's unusual that this this is missing from our narrative."
Nearly 33% of Americans who identify as LGBT smoke and, together, spend a whopping $7.9 billion on cigarettes each year — more than 65 times more than funders spend on all LGBT issues combined, according to the network's findings. In comparison, the Centers for Disease Control's 2012 National Adult Tobacco Survey showed that 19.5% of the U.S. population at large smokes.
But despite the startling figures, when some LGBT leaders are asked about the communities' top health issues, smoking is rarely on the list, Scout said. "It really is time for smoking to come out of the closet as the top issue health issue affecting LGBT people today."
These estimates are derived from the CDC's 2012 National Adult Tobacco Survey — the first national surveillance study that included LGBT-specific information about smoking. The survey found that LGBT people smoke cigarettes at rates 68% higher than the general population. The network used that year's Funders for LGBTQ Issues report to get the tally for funding of LGBT causes at around $120 million, according to Scout.
"LGBT people, people of color, the poor; tobacco preys on stigma and too often we pay with our lives." said Dr. Phoenix Matthews, a tobacco researcher at University of Illinois at Chicago and Network member in a statement. "I hope this number shocks people enough so we start building tobacco control into all of our communities' health programs."
Organizations in some cities have already rolled out research programs specifically targeted to track smoking cessation among LGBT communities, such as Bitch to Quit in Chicago, a collaboration between UIC and Howard Brown Health Center. Matthews is a principle investigator of the program, which offers support from counselors, nicotine replacement therapy and compensation for participants. In addition, the City of Chicago Department of Public Health launched a media campaign last year aimed at LGBT women of color who smoke.
Similar programs and campaigns have been launched in various areas and municipalities throughout the country like Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Long Island, N.Y. and in states such as Minnesota, West Virginia, New Mexico and North Carolina, according to Scout.
The new Surgeon General's report, due out Friday, specifically shows LGBT communities as a population facing health disparities due to smoking, according to the network.