Can sexuality affect smoking habits?

Research by London Met academic finds worrying trend among young LGB community

Date: 4 November 2013

Dr Joanna Semlyen studied data from over 7,000 people

Lesbian, gay and bisexual young people are twice as likely to smoke and drink hazardously than their heterosexual peers, according to research by an academic at London Metropolitan University.

Psychology lecturer Dr Joanna Semlyen, from the Faculty of Life Sciences and Computing, conducted a groundbreaking study that raises concerns for the health and wellbeing of young people in the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) community.

Data from over 7,600 participants showed that young people who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual (3.5% of the sample) were around twice as likely as heterosexuals to have smoked. Gay or lesbian participants also reported more frequent hazardous drinking.

“This is the first study of its kind on young UK LGB participants,” explained Dr Semlyen, “and although our research highlights a worrying trend among young LGB people, it does not tell us the reasons behind it.

“There are various possibilities as to why young LGB people may be more likely to smoke tobacco and drink alcohol hazardously. We know that heterosexism – the perception that everyone in society is heterosexual and the social problems that can arise from this – and homophobia are both the lived experience of many LGB people. Smoking and alcohol abuse could be an attempt to escape from the possible self-esteem issues that arise from this.

“It may also be an attempt to ‘fit in’ or adhere to perceptions of role models from the media. However, the lack of current research in this area means we do not have the answers yet.”

Dr Semlyen’s work is part of a project which includes researchers from the University of Cambridge and University College London, and highlights the socially important research taking place at London Met. Joanna’s study is a valuable contribution to the University’s research agenda, and she is proud to have been involved in such an important project.

“As a University, we should always encourage thinking and questioning, and research should be at the heart of this. I am driven by developing and sharing knowledge - just ask my students - whatever I know, they know! I have a passion for education and how it can change someone’s direction or, indeed, their life.”

The Health Psychology lecturer is involved in several research studies and academic partnerships, and currently works with academics in Glasgow Caledonian University, Queen’s University Belfast, Brunel University and the University of Chester, as well as being involved in work with SLAM and Oxleas NHS Foundation Trusts, along with the charity, Broken Rainbow.

Dr Semlyen is now hoping to find funding to conduct further research both looking at other health inequalities in this population as well as trying to understand the reasons behind this trend.

Find out more about the Faculty of Life Sciences and Computing 

View Dr Semlyen's full profile here.

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