Smoking is a significant health issue facing the LGBTQ community and it could be drastically improved by ending the sale of flavored tobacco in Denver.
In Colorado, and nationwide, the LGBTQ population has one of the highest smoking rates compared to any other group, smoking at rates more than double their heterosexual/cisgender neighbors. While the smoking rate for all Coloradans has been declining, the rate of smoking among the LGBTQ community has remained steady.
It’s not by accident.
For decades, the tobacco industry has targeted the LGBTQ community with their deadly products. Tobacco companies advertise at Pride festivals and other community events, promoting smoking as a “normal” part of LGBTQ life. They promote messages of freedom — ironic since they are selling a highly addictive product.
According to researchers, LGBTQ people are significantly more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes, with more than 36% reporting that they usually smoke menthols. This is significant because we already know flavors are tailor-made to get young people to start, and make it harder for adults to quit.
The most recent Healthy Kids Colorado Survey shows tobacco use is still higher for LGB youth than their heterosexual peers, whether for e-cigarettes, traditional cigarettes, or any menthol-flavored tobacco product. Nearly one-third of LGB youth who smoke cigarettes said they use menthol products.
At National Jewish Health, the nation’s leading respiratory hospital and Quitline operator in 20 states, we know all too well the damage caused by smoking and vaping, and how hard it is to quit. Being a young LGBTQ person is stressful enough without needing to deal with an addiction to tobacco that will only cause more health problems. We owe it to Denver’s youth to offer ways of coping that do not lead to addiction and lifelong poor health from smoking or vaping. Removing flavored tobacco products means we are prioritizing the health of the next generation over the profits of the industry.
Now is the time — as we deal with the COVID-19 respiratory pandemic and the impact on lung health — to protect our youth. Their lives depend on our actions. It’s time to end the sale of flavored tobacco in Denver.
Thomas Ylioja, Ph.D., is the clinical director of health initiatives at National Jewish Health in Denver