Frequent smoking in gay and lesbian movies may help LGBTs take up the habit

Jan. 6, 2014

The ways LGBT people are portrayed in the movies may contribute to higher rates of tobacco smoking among lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study finds.

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Joseph Lee

Led by Joseph Lee, MPH, health behavior doctoral student at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, the study was published online Nov. 25 in the journal Tobacco Control.

Co-authors are Christine Agnew-Brune, also a health behavior doctoral student at the Gillings School; Justin Clapp, staff member at Duke University; and John Blosnich, PhD, of the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center.

Lee and colleagues note that stigma and stress typically are posited as the reasons for the high prevalence of smoking by LGBT people. Given that smoking tends to be taken up during youth and adolescence, however, they wanted to investigate other factors as well.

The authors selected a random sample of movies distributed in the U.S. between 2000 and 2011 that dealt with LGBT characters and analyzed the films to determine the number of times tobacco use was depicted and the proportion of movies in which tobacco use appeared. The researchers found tobacco use was depicted in 87 percent of the movies, with an average of one depiction of tobacco use for every 15 minutes of film. Only 15 percent of the movies and 3 percent of the depictions of tobacco use showed any relationship between smoking and harm to health.

The study suggests the importance of future research that investigates how the media and social environment may affect tobacco use in LGBT people.

“Burgeoning visibility of LGBT characters in movies allows for other messages about what it means to be LGBT,” the authors wrote. “For now, unfortunately, those messages include tobacco use as an ubiquitous part of LGBT lives.”

The full study is available online.


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Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu