I want a cigarette.

I suppose that on it's own, that's not a particularly strange thought.  Throughout my life, most people would probably consider me a social smoker.  I smoke when I'm drunk, when I'm around friends who are smoking, when I'm upset.  Especially when I'm upset.  Always when I'm upset.

But lately, I've been trying much harder to quit; not the usual, "Yea, yea. It's so bad for me. I know. I should stop," but a much more adamant, "I no longer want to do bad things to myself and this is definitely bad for me and an unhealthy pattern that is empowering to break."
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I want a cigarette right now, but I'm not drunk.  No one around me is smoking.  I'm a medical student who just finished learning about all the terrible things that smokers are at hugely increased risk for.  I've watched COPD patients suffocate while just sitting in a room.  I'm even at a conference on LGBT health issues, sitting in a talk on how queer women have higher rates of smoking.  It's an issue that plagues our community.  I'm sitting in a huge room with fluorescent lights.  There is nothing sexy about this situation. If cold showers are effective combatants of sexual arousal, I'm sitting in the proverbial "ice bath" of smoking. But I can't ever remember wanting a cigarette in the recent past more than I do right now.

Most people who have ever sat through a lecture on LGBT health issues probably know that queer women have a higher rate of smoking than the general population.  We smoke as a coping mechanism for stigma.  We smoke because it's a community norm.  We smoke because we have internalized self-hate and don't feel like we deserve to be healthy. We smoke because compared to many of the other issues that plague the LGBT community, smoking just doesn't seem like that big of a deal.  We smoke because it's "masculine."  We smoke more because smoking cessation programs are rarely culturally sensitive.  Tobacco companies specifically target LGBT communities.

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These explanations are not new to me, though it's certainly useful to be reminded.  But what's left such a large impression on me is how effective these advertisements are.  I want to smoke a cigarette right now because the presenter has shown us examples of cigarette ads targeting lesbian consumers.  And these ads are so effective that even when presented in the context of, "look how terrible this is, we must not fall for it," they're still compelling.  I try to think back to the last time that I saw myself validated in popular media.  I try to recall the last time I was told that walking down the street with my girlfriend could be cool instead of anxiety-provoking.  Suddenly I'm presented with a world where that's the case. And I want to be a part of it.  Badly.

It's not that tobacco companies don't advertise heavily to all demographics and tailor their advertisements accordingly, that makes them so effective.  It's that when straight folks see an ad, it's just one of the millions of ads that surround them.  LGBT folks, we're so hungry for acceptance, our representations so few, that queer friendly ads are like water for a person dying of thirst.  Allies are few.  Financial support is spotty. Opposition is high.  Not surprisingly, the LGBT community is fiercely loyal.

And that's a good thing.  Our allies must know that our support matters; that if we say we'll mobilize and support an issue, that it will be significant.  But we have to be loyal to ourselves first and that means allying only with folks that will truly benefit our community, not tobacco and beer companies that exploit our marginalization.

Will I smoke again? Probably.  Probably less and eventually, insha'allah, none.  My next tattoo: Don't let other's people's prejudices give you COPD too.

some links:
on smoking in lgbt communities and tobacco advertising: http://www.lgbttobacco.org/
on increased nicotine levels in cigarettes targeted for minorities and teenagers: 
http://www.smoking-cessation.org/nicotine_in_cigarettes_increases.asp
amer_jour_public_health_-_tobacco_takes_aims_at_lgbt_youth.pdf
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