Overexposure to bullying would explain the high smoking prevalence of young LGBT people

A US study estimates that the greater exposure to bullying and violence at school among young people declaring themselves to be from a sexual minority would constitute one of the determinants of their high level of smoking. Several avenues are being considered to change this situation.

A higher smoking prevalence is regularly observed among lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans (LGBT) people, both among adults and among young people. A team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago has looked at some psychosocial determinants of this disparity among adolescents[1].

Exposure to school violence would amplify tobacco consumption

The work of this team is based on the exploitation of the results of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) study, which explores every two years at the national level the risk behaviors of young schoolchildren. Focusing on the city of Chicago, the declarative responses of 13,872 adolescents aged 15 to 18 were subjected to bivariate analyses.

These analyzes made it possible to confirm that adolescents declaring a minority sexual orientation (homosexual, bisexual or uncertain, i.e. 21.1% of the sample) are significantly more consumers of tobacco and nicotine products than young heterosexuals, by 2 .3 to 4.4 times more depending on the type of product. It has also been confirmed that adolescents exposed to bullying (including cyberbullying) and school violence are both more prone to risky behavior and more often consumers of tobacco and nicotine products. Other work has previously documented the links between substance use and exposure to violence and traumatic events, with a view to regulating anxiety and negative affects.[2].

Although heterosexual adolescents exposed to bullying and school violence are generally numerous (28.1%), this proportion increases significantly among those who declare themselves to be from a sexual minority (41.2%). Furthermore, among young people who identify as a sexual minority, those who have been exposed to bullying and violence at school are more often consumers of tobacco and nicotine products than those who have not been exposed to them. The authors estimate that 34% of tobacco use among young sexual minorities is due to bullying and violence at school, with other consumption factors also at work in this population.

Two lines of response to this situation

Among the avenues devised to resolve this situation, two axes are put forward. The first concerns prevention actions, which could be carried out on three levels: by carrying out global actions to prevent school bullying and violence; by developing targeted actions on exposure to this violence among young people declaring themselves to be from a sexual minority, knowing that the messages may differ from those usually addressed to adults; by encouraging the establishment of student organizations promoting gay/straight alliances, which reinforce the integration of sexual minorities and reduce their victimization.

The other axis of intervention recommended by the authors is to act in parallel with the levers in the fight against smoking that have proven their worth. Increasing taxes on tobacco and nicotine products, banning the use of flavorings in these products, raising the legal age for buying – and selling – tobacco products to 21 years, as well as the abolition of discounts and rebates are presented as so many measures to reduce the consumption of these products among all young people. The authors add that further efforts should be made to reduce the use of e-cigarettes, which have significantly supplanted that of tobacco products among young Americans. However, they fail to take into account the specific targeting of sexual minorities by the tobacco industry in the United States, particularly in the marketing of menthol tobacco and nicotine products.

To better understand the other determinants of tobacco and nicotine consumption among LGBT audiences, consult our information sheet.

Keywords: LGBT, school violence, bullying, risky behavior

©Tobacco Free Generation


[1] Duangchan C, Matthews A, Smith A, Steffen A, Sexual minority status, school-based violence, and current tobacco use among youth, Tob. Prev. Termination 2022;8(December):46.

[2] Khanhkham A, Williams RD Jr, Housman JM, et al. Sexual dating violence, school-based violence, and risky behaviors among US high school students. J Community Health. 2020;45(5):932-942.

National Anti-Smoking Committee |

Overexposure to bullying would explain the high smoking prevalence of young LGBT people