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No more butts on No Smoking Day

No more butts on No Smoking Day

You may know that 14 March is No Smoking Day in Britain. But what is far less well known is that the average gay man or lesbian is far more likely to smoke, and to suffer the consequences, than straight people.

The British Heart Foundation launched the UK-wide charity No Smoking Day in 1983 to tackle the UK’s addiction to tobacco, which has proven to be more addictive than heroin. In fact, cigarettes are the only product that kills 50% of its consumers when they follow manufacturer directions.

Studies show gays and lesbians smoke more cigarettes earlier and longer than their heterosexual counterparts – making this a significant health concern. According to a 2005 UK Gay Men’s Sex Survey, around 40% of gay men smoke tobacco in some form or another compared to 23% in the general population of men.

There’s little data as to why gay and lesbians start smoking, or continue smoking for so long, but the gay men’s health charity GMFA offers tailor-made programs and support to help gays and lesbians combat their nicotine addictions.

Barrie Dwyer, project manager with responsibility for group work for GMFA, offers support groups typically last about four weeks. A common misconception for smokers looking to join the groups is that you are forced to quit immediately. In fact, members participating in the group don’t quit smoking until the third week. Dwyer cites that GMFA groups have a quit-smoking success rate of 70-85% after the programs, compared to 45-50% success for general National Health Service programs.

‘The biggest thing that helps you give up smoking is your motivation,’ says Dwyer. ‘And that motivation is different for different people. That’s why GMFA anti-smoking groups are better than the NHS experience: because they’re specific.’

Dwyer is referring to the gay and lesbian-specific issues that are covered in these support groups, issues that would not be traditionally covered in NHS anti-smoking groups. Issues such as have a cigarette after anal sex, the implications of smoking and HIV, or the urge to smoke when you’re out partying at the clubs.

‘As a minority, gays try to fit in with peers more than we do anywhere else,’ says Dwyer. ‘It could be our trying to fit in with the cool kids and be accepted that makes us do something to be part of the group, to be accepted for something other than our sexuality.’

It could also be the socialization patterns of gays and lesbians that make smoking so much more acceptable. Cigarettes were often used as a cruising tool, where strangers would light their smokes in the dark to identify their presence. The modern-day pub and club culture has propagated a familiar set of peer norms, where alcohol and drugs serve as a gateway for smoking cigarettes. The social consciousness towards gays and lesbians could also contribute to high smoking rates.

‘When you’re told you’re worthless and that you’ll die young, from AIDS or STIs,’ Dwyer says, ‘then smoking doesn’t make that much of a difference.’

A cost-benefit analysis specific to gays and lesbians reveals some daunting statistics that prove not smoking does make a difference.

In the era of austerity, the actual cost of smoking is a statistic that everyone, gay or straight, can understand. Amit Aggarwal, chief executive of the No Smoking Day charity, said: ‘The increase in the cost of cigarettes might just be the incentive needed for anyone planning to quit.

‘If they stopped smoking today, they could pocket an extra £45 ($71 €54) every week, and would have the added benefit of feeling healthier and looking better. They can join thousands of quitters on our WeQuit website.’

In terms of health effects, men who smoke are more likely to have difficulties getting and maintaining an erection, in addition to being more prone to the well-known risks of heart attacks, diabetes, and various forms of cancer.

Lesbians are also susceptible to nicotine addiction since more since gay women are less likely to get pregnant than straight women, they are also less likely to give up smoking.

HIV positive smokers are also at a higher risk of contracting smoke-related illnesses than HIV negative smokers. Gay men and women will suffer from a worsening appearance the longer they smoke: wrinkles around eyes and mouth, stained teeth, gums and fingers. Increasing one’s life expectancy alone seems well worth navigating the mood changes, difficulties concentrating, smoking cravings, increased hunger and possible weight gain that can be expected when quitting smoking.

GMFA lists three means to smoking cessation: willpower (aka cold-turkey); nicotine replacement therapy (NRT); and prescription drugs Zyban (anti-depressant) and Champix. NRT includes patches, gum, microtabs (to be dissolved under the tongue), lozenges, nasal spray, and an inhaler. Be sure to consult your GP before you make any decisions regarding prescription drugs Zyban and Champix.

Dwyer says that some people trying to quit express concern over becoming addicted to NRT devices. ‘It’s not the nicotine they should be worried about; they’re already addicted if they’re trying to quit smoking. Problems usually result in misusing the products.’

Nicotine gum is not meant to be chewed the same way bubble gum is used. Once masticated, the gum must be ‘parked’ between the teeth and the inside of the cheek so that the gum’s chemicals can be absorbed.

The nasal spray is also not as pleasant as a typical nasal spray. An ingredient in tobacco that resembles chili makes the inhalation process quite annoying. Despite these and other inconveniences, Dwyer states that 70% of people are more likely to give up smoking if they use NRT. Some people express concern over the effectiveness of patches, but the same technology is being used to successfully administer contraceptive and HIV treatments.

GMFA acknowledges that quitting smoking is not easy, since nicotine is more addictive than heroin. Many people go back to smoking after trying to quit using any number of the options listed above. A more gradual means of quitting smoking is e-cigarettes like Intellicig, a device that vaporises a tiny amount of liquid and replicates the sensation of smoking. The Intellicig EVOlution e-cigarette and ECOpure nicotine liquid are a less harmful and less expensive option to smoking tobacco cigarettes. Find out more about how Intellicig works here.

The GMFA website suggests that if you want to stop smoking, you will need to think about when you smoke and why you smoke. You must be motivated and willing to wrestle with the urge to smoke. Some tips include ridding oneself of smoking triggers and telling friends and family for additional moral support.

For the three out of four smokers who want to quit, the No Smoking Day charity and the GMFA website offer support and resources to kick one’s smoking habit.

‘It’s not easy,’ Dwyer says about quitting smoking, ‘but it’s one of the things that you can do that improves your health very fast. It’s not just a quick improvement to your health, but takes you out of so many life-changing issues that can impact you.’