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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The smoking rate among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in West Virginia is higher than that of the general population, new data suggests.
Nearly 41 percent of people in the LGBT community smoke, compared to 23.9 percent of the state's general population, according to data from researchers in West Virginia University's School of Public Health and the state Bureau for Public Health's Division of Tobacco Prevention.
This is the first time the tobacco use survey has collected data concerning sexual orientation.
Robert Anderson, an investigator with the WVU Prevention Research Center, said studies by other states and LGBT groups have indicated that a higher number of LGBT people are smokers.
It was "high time" researchers found out if the same was true in West Virginia, Anderson said. The general rule is that twice as many in the LGBT community smoke as the straight population, he said.
Scout, the director of the Network for LGBT Health Equity at the Fenway Institute said West Virginia is one of only a handful of states that are including the LGBT question on its smoking survey.
"We've known for decades [that the smoking rate is higher for the LGBT community]," said Scout, who only uses one name. "Kudos to West Virginia because while smoking studies have shown it for decades, governments usually miss the information because they're not asking if people are LGBT."
The network recently honored Bruce Adkins, director of West Virginia's Division of Tobacco Prevention, with the Outstanding State Advocate Award. The award is for state-level leadership in advancing and understanding the need for addressing disparate LGBT health needs.
The higher percentage of smokers in the LGBT community is something the staff at Covenant House has been well aware of. The Charleston agency has offered smoking cessation classes for those who identify as LGBT for the past four years, said Ellen Allen, the agency's executive director.
LGBT-specific cessation classes are uncommon, Scout said.
"The truth is it's rarer than hens' teeth to be able to find LGBT-specific cessation classes," Scout said. "It's ridiculous because their rates are so much higher."