Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What's with gays and smoking?

NPR just reported that one-third of American gays smoke tobacco, as compared to one-fifth of straight Americans.

Does that mean that tobacco taxes were really motivated by homophobia? After all, we're told that any policy that has more negative effects on black people is motivated by racism, such as drug laws.

But seriously now, the big question here is why do so many gays smoke. Gay writer Mark Joseph Stern contributes it to the increased stress many gays face, which manifests as many other forms of risky behavior. I think he's right, but there's another factor.

Putting on my Gary Becker hat, I think one additional reason gays smoke more is that there's less risk involved. Gays appear to have shorter lifespans today. It's not as drastic as it was during the AIDS crisis, but gays still face more health risks than straight people.

With less time left to live, the odds that smoking will harm you fall. While I don't think it's rational for anyone to smoke, it's less irrational for someone who knows they are in danger. While every gay person does not know their individual health risks, they are subject to influence from their peers.

I'm completely speculating here, but I wonder if a gay smoking culture developed during the AIDS crisis. That crisis went away with increased condom use, but smoking is notoriously hard to quit and I imagine many of the survivors stayed in the gay community and unintentionally kept the smoking culture going.

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