by Lauren Means
Lung cancer kills more people each year than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined, according to the CDC.
Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer in current and former smokers and even in non-smokers due to second-hand smoke.
This makes lung cancer a large reality for the LGBT+ community. Although there’s limited data on causes of death in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, there’s evidence showing tobacco companies target the LGBT+ at an increased rate.
Targeting Our Community
Do a quick Google search and you will find out about “Project SCUM”, a marketing initiative by R.J. Reynolds in the mid-’90s. As the Truth Initiative explains, it was “to boost cigarette sales by targeting gay men and homeless individuals with advertisements and displays placed in communities and stores. On top of donations, giveaways and increased advertising, the tobacco industry made community outreach efforts, such as hosting local promotions like ‘LGBT bar nights’ featuring specific cigarette brands.”
If you look around today, these things are still going on. There are brands doing promo giveaways at bars for signing up for their mailing list, making specific ad buys in some gay publications, and donating to LGBT+ specific fundraisers. And it’s working. As the Truth Initiative points out, there is a big percentage gap between straight smokers and LGBT+ smokers. They found out of adults who smoke, 14.9% identified as straight, 20.6% identified as LGB, and 35.5% identified as transgender. And what’s worse is that LGBT+ young adults are two times more likely to smoke than their straight counterparts.
An Ounce of Prevention…
With all that being said, prevention is the number one way to combat lung cancer.
Never pick up the habit, avoid second-hand smoke, and help those around you with their cessation attempts.
If you do smoke, quit. It’s never too late to quit. Every try counts. It may take multiple attempts, but each time you will be closer to your goal.
Avoid tempting situations. Some people associate smoking with social time. You might be out for a drink or a cup of coffee. It’s that habit that kicks in. If this means you have to skip out on brunch and mimosas for a few months, that’s ok.
Ask for help. Maybe it’s an accountability buddy. Perhaps your doctor can prescribe some nicotine replacements. You might need to find an online support group. Whatever it takes, ask for it.
Celebrate your successes, no matter how small you might think they are. Your cheerleaders will be right there to help keep you motivated.
Survival is Possible
Lung cancer has a grim five-year survival rate of only 18.1%, according to the National Cancer Institute, but survival is possible. Sis St. Clair, Middle Tennessee local and author of “Caution: Woman Inside”, is one of those survivors. She is now a three-time cancer survivor with lung cancer being her most recent battle. She says her cancer was due to daily smoking for over 50 years.
While LGBT+ people sometimes face barriers to care and even discrimination, St. Clair says she did not but also attributes this to the fact that she had already battled cancer two times before and was unfortunately familiar with the medical scene. She says, “My Doctors were very receptive when I began telling them my symptoms. I advocated for my own care at least partially because of my previous health problems. However, I do think if I had a person advocating for me it would have been easier on me because I was so ill.”
Being a three-time survivor does not come without its own challenges. After having colon cancer, kidney cancer and lung cancer, St. Clair is without a kidney and half of one of her lungs. She also must undergo strict surveillance to ensure she stays in remission. Her advice? ”Stay Positive. Our attitudes play pivotal roles in helping us face these issues and in helping our recovery. This sh*t is scary, but keeping your wits is most helpful.”