Introduction: Youths with a minority sexual orientation (i.e., gay, lesbian, bisexual, and mostly heterosexual) are at high risk for cigarette smoking. We examined sexual-orientation disparities in smoking during adolescence and emerging adulthood and investigated the role of age at first smoking in contributing to smoking disparities.
Methods: We used data from the Growing Up Today Study, a large longitudinal cohort of adolescents followed from ages 12 to 24 years (N = 13,913). Self-administered questionnaires filled out annually or biennially assessed age at first smoking, current smoking, frequency of smoking, number of cigarettes smoked daily, and nicotine dependence. Proportional hazards survival analysis and repeated measures regression estimated sexual-orientation differences in smoking.
Results: Compared with completely heterosexuals, lesbian/gay, bisexual, and mostly heterosexual youths smoked their first cigarette at younger ages, were more likely to be current smokers, and had higher frequency of smoking. Among past-year smokers, sexual-minority females smoked more cigarettes daily and scored higher on nicotine dependence than completely heterosexual females. In some instances, gender and age modified relationships between sexual orientation and smoking, with relative risk accentuated in female sexual minorities and in sexual minorities during younger ages. Younger age of smoking onset contributed to elevated smoking in mostly heterosexuals and bisexuals, and to a lesser extent in lesbians, but not in gay males.
Conclusions: Sexual-orientation minorities are at greater risk for smoking during adolescence and emerging adulthood than heterosexuals. Disparities are larger in females and evident in early adolescence. Prevention and cessation efforts should target this population, preferably beginning in early adolescence.