Two times as many lesbians report being heavy smokers than straight women, says the Mautner Project for Lesbians with Cancer, so it's no surprise if your favorite night-time haunt seems like a smoker's paradise. If you're one of the many women who continue lighting up, consider joining your sisters on November 20 for the Gay American Smoke-Out. It may just be one smoke-free day, but if you plan ahead, you can make it the first day of the rest of your smoke-free life.
We all know that smoking is bad for us. But did you know just how bad it is for women in particular? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking is the major cause of lung cancer among women. About 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths among U.S. women smokers are attributable to smoking. Putting it into context, in 2000, about 27,000 more women died of lung cancer than breast cancer. Women who smoke are also at increased risk for heart disease, stroke and numerous cancers. There are the good reasons to quit.
But what about those cynics out there who say, "I've been smoking for so long, what's the point of quitting now?" Well, stamp out that cigarette and check out this American Cancer Society break-down: Twenty minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure drops to normal. After eight hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. After 24 hours, the chance of heart attack decreases. In one to nine months, coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath decrease and cilia re-grow in the lungs. After one year, the risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker. After 10 years, the lung cancer death rate decreases by almost half. After 15 years, your risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker. So if you just put out your smoke, you are already on the road back to better health.
But, as every smoker knows, quitting smoking is not that simple. For many, smoking is a physical and an emotional experience. Cigarettes can be a light-hearted prop at the bar, or they can seem like the only thing that got you through coming out. They may help define your persona or serve to distract you from the daily stress of discrimination. Whatever their role, for many smokers the addiction has insidiously worked its way into their sense of self -- and that can be the hardest part about quitting.
"Resisting the urge to start smoking and/or choosing to quit can be a little overwhelming," say Mautner's stop-smoking experts. "However, you can do it!"
"With support and the proper tools, you can choose to breathe free," they say. "By choosing to live a smoke-free life, lesbians/WPW are not only choosing to improve their heath, but their finances as well. Quitting may take some practice, but as they say, practice makes perfect."
So, where do you begin? First, mark your calendar for the Gay Smoke-Out, then take some time to decide in advance your preferred method of quitting and formulate a plan to do it. As most of us know, there are lots of methods and advice available. Obviously, it's important to pick a method that best suits your personality and your level of addiction. You might want to start by buying or borrowing books on quitting smoking or going on-line to search for advice. If you like structure and support, you may want to consider enrolling in a program. Mautner Project offers an eight-week smoking cessation clinic with an LGBT focus.
But keep in mind there is no one right way to quit. The American Cancer Society website suggests a number of different approaches. For example, you may feel you need to address the levels of nicotine in your body through the gradual withdrawal offered by a nicotine replacement therapy such as gum or patches. If you find the oral gratification aspect hard to deal with, the Society suggests substituting things such as sugarless gum or carrot sticks. Though we all know it is nearly impossible to avoid seeing evidence of smoking, you can help by getting rid of your ashtrays and other smoking accouterment, and doing your best to keep clear of smokers. The Society also advises going public about your plan with your family, friends and co-workers -- another reason to join the Smoke-Out.
Nevertheless, despite all the helpful hints and action plans, quitting is really about attitude and plain old resolve. So here's something to bear in mind. If you think smoking is all about your personal story, you may want to think again. You may have subconsciously swallowed the carefully targeted advertising of the tobacco industry. They have been after you both as a woman and a lesbian -- do you really want tobacco companies making a buck at the expense of you and your sisters' health?
That's what we thought.