Skip to content
Getty Images

It’s a truth perhaps not so universally acknowledged that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be smokers. While we know that the smoking area of most queer clubs is usually rammed full of people on any given night, as of 2018 in the UK, 22.2% of lesbians and gay men and 19.3% of bisexual people are smokers, compared to just 15.5% of heterosexual people. Similarly, LGB young people are more inclined to smoke at a younger age and more frequently than their heterosexual counterparts. 

While overall the number of people who smoke is slowly decreasing in the UK, and 62.5% of all people aged 16 or over in Great Britain who have ever smoked have said they have quit, the disproportionate number of LGBTQ+ people who smoke is still curious – why, when we know how bad smoking cigarettes is for us, do so many LGBTQ+ people still want to light one up?

The Social Stigma and Mental Health

Robust and conclusive research into tobacco use in LGBTQ+ communities is limited, although insight can be gleaned from the information that is out there. According to the Truth Initiative – America’s largest non-profit public health organisation dedicated to a future where tobacco and nicotine addiction are things of the past – the social stigma and discrimination that many LGBTQ+ face could be one of the reasons why smoking is more prevalent in queer communities.

Unfortunately, these issues, among other things, do have an impact on LGBTQ+ people and their mental health. Like with smoking, LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately affected by mental health issues and illnesses. According to Stonewall’s ‘LGBT in Britain: Health Report’, 52% of LGBTQ+ people say they have experienced depression in 2018, with two thirds of trans people saying they’ve experienced depression in the same period. These figures are higher among LGBTQ+ people who have experienced hate crimes and among LGBTQ+ people who are Black or people of colour.

Unsurprisingly, there is a link between poor mental health and rates of smoking. According to Action On Smoking And Health (ASH), it’s estimated that 40% of adults with a serious mental illness in the England are smokers, while over 25% of smokers suffer from anxiety or depression.

The reasons for this are complex; smokers argue that cigarettes can help relieve feelings of anxiety and stress, smoking therefore becoming a form of self-medication. This association between smoking and stress relief is questionable and could be evidence of a false economy. Nicotine, the addictive stimulant in cigarettes, releases dopamine, which causes feelings of pleasure. However, the stress that many smokers feel may just be nicotine withdrawal, the relief they experience when smoking may not eliminate their real, experienced stress but just their cravings. Nevertheless, for smokers with a mental health condition, the association between smoking and feeling relaxed is more pronounced.

It wouldn’t be incongruous to draw a line connecting the rates of smoking among LGBTQ+ people and the disproportionate amount that LGBT+ people are affected by mental health issues. But it doesn’t provide a complete picture, either, as there are also other health disparities to consider.

Unequal Treatment

Smokers are three times as likely to quit using stop smoking services versus quitting alone. While this is promising, there needs to be an understanding that accessing NHS services isn’t always easy or possible for LGBTQ+ people. Stonewall’s ‘Health Report’ suggests that one in eight LGBTQ+ people (13%) have experienced some kind of unequal treatment from healthcare staff because they are LGBTQ+ – a figure that’s considerably higher among trans people. Other issues such as people’s fear of being outed by healthcare services and inappropriate curiosity by healthcare staff about LGBTQ+ people accessing services, may prevent LGBTQ+ people from accessing smoking cessation support provided by the NHS.

The Social Side

Of course, it would be neglectful to not also consider the impact that the aforementioned rammed smoking areas at queer venues, and LGBTQ+ nightlife more broadly, has on rates of smoking among LGBTQ+ people. Considering how much of queer culture centres around going out to bars and clubs, the dancefloor consecrated long ago by LGBTQ+ people around the world, it wouldn’t be unfair to suggest a possible correlation.

In fact, according to various studies, there is a link between bar and nightclub attendance and an increased likelihood of smoking. For many, the smoking area of a club or bar can provide the highlights of a night out, a space where people can chat, flirt and escape sweaty dancefloors and bustling bars. The social aspect of the smoking area, with its forced intimacy and sense of escapism, could well be enough to keep someone smoking.

Similarly, pop culture’s impact on the LGBTQ+ community cannot be underplayed. While depictions of smoking in films and TV shows may have fallen, cigarette smoking and vaping is still something we often see on our screens.

The Bottom-Line

Ultimately, though, the choice to smoke is a personal one, even if there are various factors that can lead to LGBTQ+ people being more likely to be smokers. There’s evidence that using two nicotine replacement therapy products like NICORETTE® lnvisiPatch in combination with NICORETTE® Gum, NICORETTE® Cools Lozenge or NICORETTE® QuickMist Mouthspray increases your likelihood of quitting*, too. Whether you’re thinking of quitting smoking for yourself or the people in your life, stopping may be the best thing you can do for your own health – and the health of people around you. Thankfully, it’s never too late to quit. Whether you’re thinking of quitting smoking with a friend or going it alone, stopping is the best thing you can do for your own health – and the health of people around you. Thankfully, it’s never too late to quit. For additional support to help you quit try NICORETTE® at Superdrug today

*Vs willpower alone. Nicorette® contains nicotine. Stop smoking aid. Requires willpower. Always read the label. UK-NI-2100433