Trying to get to some of the root causes of why lesbian, bisexual or transgender women may smoke in greater numbers than the mainstream, Sara Jaye Sanford says she hears a common refrain:
''I was so nervous when I walked into a gay bar for the first time that I started smoking. I wanted to do something with my hands.''
Sanford, as a program associate of the Mautner Project, the D.C.-based national organization dedicated to lesbian health, has reason to ask. She frequently works as a facilitator of the Mautner Project's smoking-cessation groups. And with much of her time committed to that effort, she's says she's understandably excited about Mautner's new collaborative effort with the D.C. Tobacco Free Families Campaign in launching an ad campaign targeting LBT women.
''Smoking is really a big part of our culture and working with the services that the Mautner Project offers, people are able to address that aspect of their tobacco use,'' she says. ''And, also, they just feel really comfortable.''
Sanford describes the ad campaign, which launched at the end of August and appears on Washington Metro busses, as ''vital.''
''Smoking is a huge problem within our community,'' says Sanford. ''Recent statistics are that LBT women smoke at two-to-three times the rate of their heterosexual countertypes, which is a huge difference. And it also implies that we are also much more affected by the health problems caused by smoking cigarettes.''
Sanford says women have in recent years become more aware of breast cancer through the publicizing of efforts to detect and treat it. She hopes the new anti-smoking campaign will similarly spread the word about the dangers of smoking, including lung cancer.
''Actually, more women die every year of lung cancer than breast cancer, so it's something that needs to pop onto people's radar.''
The smoking-cessation ads were funded by the D.C. Tobacco Free Families Campaign, which is a partnership between the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association of the District of Columbia, and the D.C. Department of Health. They feature Washington Mystics basketball player Nakia Sanford with the slogan, ''Strong/Smart. Sexy. Non-smoker.''
''It will just be great for women sitting at a bus stop to see themselves reflected and to know that these services are here for them too. Just the line 'National Lesbian Health Organization' is enough to let them know that they're included,'' Sanford says, referring to the text that often follows Mautner's name.
''The other thing is, we know that just informally, a lot of the Mystics' fans are gay or bi women, and we've had a lot of fun doing some outreach there this past season.''
The ads instruct smokers wanting to quit the habit to call ''1-800-QUIT-NOW.'' Calling that number will connect callers to D.C. Tobacco Free Families. Callers may be referred to the Mautner Project or seek phone counseling, among other services, on the initial call.
''If folks know that they're only interested in LGBT-specific services, they can also just call us directly, but our number is not going to be on the bus ad,'' Sanford says, adding, ''It's kind of hard for folks to remember something more complicated than '800-QUIT-NOW.'
''Our message,'' adds Sanford, ''[is] not saying, 'You need to quit smoking. It's bad for you.' We're saying, 'When you're ready to quit, we're here to help.'''
To contact the Mautner Project, call 202-332-5536 or visit www.mautnerproject.org.