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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Smoking ... anti-socially and with a sense of drama

I used to get a chuckle out of some of the online sites for personal ads that asked guys who posted their profiles to list whether or not they smoked. It seemed like a straight-forward question. Either you do or you don't. But in place of checking a "yes" or "no" box, some of this sites have come up with ways to turn a perfectly simple question into a multiple choice test.

Some of the sites include choices like "I don't smoke and don't want to date someone who does" or "I smoke and only want to date a smoker" or the ever-popular "I have no smoking preference." Then there's the box marked "quitting." I guess that's the choice for guys who are on the patch or perhaps furious chewing that awful tasting nicotine gum. Yeah, I can see having the "quitting" option even though it seems like one is either smoking or not smoking.

Finally there's an option on some of the profiles that lists "I smoke socially." Ummm, excuse me, but what the hell is that? Is that like social drinking that's supposed to separate the guys who enjoy an occassional beer from those who can't make it through the day without guzzling enough to finance single-handedly an entire 30-second Budweiser commercial during the Super Bowl?

I guess I don't grasp the concept of "smoking socially." Maybe it's because that's exactly opposite of my smoking habit. I'm an anti-social smoker. I tend not to smoke in social situations - especially if I'm around non-smokers. But plop me down in front of the TV or computer at the end of the day and the cigarettes get fired up.

Perhaps that makes me a closeted smoker. Certainly, given today's emphasis on health and the dangers of second-hand smoke, smokers can develop a sense of shame to accompany their habit. And if we don't, then we can always count on an anti-smoking crusaders to remind us we should be ashamed.

This year I've managed to quit smoking for at least two weeks three times. Then something stressful happens in my life and, hey, there's always a Quik Trip open just a few blocks away from wherever I am with a dizzying array of tobacco products in colorful packages right there behind the counter.

Earlier this month The San Francisco Chronicle ran an article on smoking in the gay community. It found that LGBT's in California were twice as likely to be smokers as their straight counterparts. According to the article:

Stress, many health care experts believe, is one of the main reasons why the smoking rate among gays and lesbians is at least twice the average in California. More than a decade of advertising targeted at gays and lesbians is also to blame, they say.

It's only in the past year or two that researchers were able to confirm what they'd suspected all along about the high smoking rate in the gay community. Now, at least one new survey, the results of which are expected next year, seeks to explain why.

About 14 percent of Californians smoke, according to a 2005 Department of Health Services survey released in April. But in a 2004 state survey, more than 30 percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were smokers.

Lesbians smoked at an even higher rate, 32.5 percent -- nearly three times the average -- for women in California. And among young lesbians between the ages of 18 and 24, a staggering 47 percent were smokers, compared with the average rate of 18 percent for that age group overall.
The article also lists possible explanations from gay smokers for all that smoking. Perhaps it's the emphasis on the bars and clubs - often smoke-filled - that keeps gays puffing away. Or maybe it's coping with the issues of unsupportive families or the difficulties of finding "the one" in a world full of not-the-ones. Or perhaps it's all about the image of smoking in the queer collective conciousness ... from the smolderingly sexy Maraboro Man to the worst Bette Davis impersonator waving a cigarette and proclaiming, "It's gonna be a bumpy night!"

Dr. Elizabeth Gruskin, the reseacher quoted in the article, has a theory. She says, "It doesn't seem like the issues are different than with straight people, so maybe they're just more intense."

"More intense"? I think that was a polite way of saying gay smokers tend to be drama queens.

Perhaps there's truth in that. In my case, at least, my attempts at quitting smoking failed following some "drama." In college I remember going back to smoking because the guy I was dating at the time failed to say "I love you, too" when I had confessed my feelings. Being laid off last year provided enough drama to keep me smoking even when I should have been using my unemployment checks for more necessary things. Then this summer it's been my dad's failing health that steered me to the nearest convenience store on the way back from a hospital visit.

So there I sit ... alone in front of the computer screen, contemplating the latest drama and puffing away.

If all the health organizations really want the LGBT community to cut down on smoking, the solution is really very simple: Quit causing us so much drama! Muzzle Fred Phelps, the American Family Association, Jerry Falwell, Focus on the Family, the entire Bush Administration, and 90 percent of Republicans for six months and we'll be a happy, healthy and smoke-free minority.

Suppose we have a chance of getting such a program implemented?