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LGBT Health Awareness Week: Clearing the air
by Jason Carson Wilson

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Clearing the air is the goal of LGBT Health Awareness Week this year. The Chicago Public Health Department, National Coalition for LGBT Health and Howard Brown Health Center joined forces to combat smoking.

LGBT people smoke, on average, more than their straight counterparts. Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair said various studies show queer community members are 1.5 to 2.5 times as likely to smoke—for various reasons.

Choucair hopes "Come Out for Health" inspires people to quit. Choucair said the targeted campaign encourages people to call the Tobacco Quitline at 866-QUIT-YES.

"We want less people smoking and less people to be exposed to secondhand smoke," Choucair said.

A trained professional creates a personalized smoking cessation plan after a confidential conversation. Then, that professional links the caller with various community resources, including community group sessions and nicotine replacement therapy.

"Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in this country," Choucair said.

More than 440,000 Americans die from tobacco-related illnesses each year. Smoking can cause asthma, heart disease and lung cancer.

Howard Brown's involvement is possible through the Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project, a collaboration between Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health. The Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative.

The health center is also conducting a LGBTQ smoking-cessation study known as "Bitch To Quit." ( For more information, call Karyn Haney at 773-388-8682. )

Howard Brown did not respond to multiple inquiries by the press deadline.

The Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project is a citywide effort to reduce smoking rates and exposure to secondhand smoke. Seventy percent of people who smoke say they want to quit, and the project provides free, local resources to help people meet their smoke-free goals. Through more than 30 community partners, including Howard Brown Health Center, the project reaches vulnerable population groups who smoke at higher rates than the national average. The project also aims to prevent young people from ever starting to use tobacco products and to increase the number of smoke-free and tobacco-free environments across the city.

It rewards Chicagoans accepting the challenge to quit smoking, promotes smoking cessation classes and resources as well as sponsoring youth-centered contests encouraging young people to avoid smoking.

Smoking cessation is among priorities that initiative Healthy Chicago identities. Others include obesity prevention, HIV prevention, adolescent health, cancer disparities, healthcare access, communicable disease control and prevention, violence prevention and improving public health infrastructure, among others.

Choucair noted that Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched the Healthy Chicago initiative in August. Workgroups that focus on issues facing business, academics, faith-based organizations, health care providers, the LGBT community, philanthropic organizations, community coalitions and other public healthcare officials were created.

Increased social stress, high alcohol use and pervasive advertising, according to Choucair, are among the factors that encourage smoking. Other evidence shows LGBT smokers begin at an earlier age.

"The younger you are, the more likely you're going to be addicted," Choucair said.

The annual "Kick Butt Day" ( which took place on March 21 ) targets youth smokers and tobacco sales to minors. Choucair cited stress and peer pressure as reasons young people—gay or straight—begin smoking. About 20 percent of adults in Chicago are smokers.

Americans for Nonsmokers Rights agreed smoking is a big problem for the LGBT community. The organization lays blame at the tobacco industry's collective feet—citing the companies' "relentless campaign to target gay men and women," according to its website.

Tobacco companies spend more than $13 billion to promote cigarettes. They have specifically focused on the LGBT people since 1991, advertising at Pride and other events, according to the DC Center for the LGBT Community. Interestingly, the companies have also contributed heavily to local and national LGBT groups as well as HIV/AIDS organizations.

Bar promotions, sponsorships and LGBT press advertising are the corporations' tools of choice. LGBT adults and youth nationwide are 40-70 percent more likely to smoke than the general population.

In addition to the other efforts, there is the Chicago's Clean Air ( Indoor ) Ordinance. The ordinance was passed in 1988, according to . Its current version, which took effect in February 2008, forbids smoking in nearly all public places and enclosed workplaces. The ordinance prohibits smoking within 15 feet of their entrances.

Residences, except those used as day-care centers or businesses; some hotel and motel rooms; and retail tobacco stores are exempt. Illinois' smoke-free law, which supersedes local statutes, went into effect January 2008.

Find out more about the Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project at

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