On Wednesday, September 29, 2010 the Center testified about the impact of tobacco and smoking on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities at a meeting at Manhattan Community Board 2. Community Board 2 is one of 12 Community Boards in Manhattan and 59 across New York City that are charged with representing community interest on crucial issues of development and planning, land use, zoning and City service delivery, as well as coordination with social services and public education facilities. The following is the testimony delivered by Agapito Velz, a participant in the Center’s LGBT SmokeFree Project Social Action Group (SAG):
The SmokeFree Project
Hello, my name is Agapito Velz. I want to begin by congratulating Mayor Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other City Council leadership for their contemplated ban on smoking within city beaches and parks.
In New York City, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. We have a particular problem throughout Manhattan, especially among teens and young adults.
Smoking is also a problem for my community – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Research indicates smoking kills more LGBT people each year than hate crimes, suicide, and AIDS combined, and more lesbians die of lung cancer than breast cancer. 59% of self-identified LBGT teenagers report using tobacco, compared to 35% of self-identified straight teens. And finally, recent studies in New York state found that 70% of people living with HIV are smokers.
My personal challenges with smoking
Smoking was also my problem. I am 45-years old and have been HIV-positive for 26 years. I started smoking at the age of 14. I remember at that time wanting to fit in, feeling different and afraid. Smoking was the first substance I used to feel a part of.
Smoking has caused me many medical problems throughout the years; Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) twice, two bronchial washings, shortness of breath, low weight, chronic fatigue, many hospitalizations and low self-esteem due to feeling defeated because I could not stop.
How the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center helped me
In January, 2007, I heard about the Commit to Quit groups as part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center’s (the Center) LGBT SmokeFree Project (SFP). I signed up and showed up every week for my meetings and found the support and understanding I needed. At these meetings I was also able to open up about my struggle with other addictive substances. At the end of six-weeks I was smoke free. The facilitator asked me if I needed help with my other addictions and I said yes. He helped me find a rehab and I began treatment. I am grateful I was smoke free and was able to focus on my other addictions. Today I have 3-years and 8-months nicotine free and 3-years and 4-months drug and alcohol free. After rehab, I made my first 12-step meeting at the Center. The Center has helped me by giving me a place to go where I can find love, support and understanding. I would like to give back what was given to me so I will be volunteering in the Center’s SFP where it all began for me.
How smoking cessation programs have worked in New York
In a 2009 Evaluation preformed by RTI International of the New York State Tobacco Control Program Efforts to Promote Smoking Cessation. It was discovered that:
As of 2008, 53.2% of smokers in New York State have attempted to quit, compared to the U.S. national average of 39.0%.
New York State has achieved its lowest adult and youth smoking rates at 16.8% and 14.7 %, respectively.
There are still 2.5 million adult smokers in New York State and 75% of these smokers say they want to quit.
Thank you all so much for giving me the opportunity to share my story and to present data that shows just how effective our smoking cessation programs have been. We hope that we can count on your leadership to continue helping other New Yorkers with the tools they need to become tobacco free. There are still 2.5 million adult smokers in New York State and 75% of these smokers say they want to quit.
For more information: The speaker is a member of the LGBT SmokeFree Project Social Action Group (SAG) – the SmokeFree Project at the Center has been dedicated to helping members of the LGBT community quit smoking for good since 1993. The SmokeFree Project offers groups to provide important knowledge and support around nicotine dependence, cessation medications, and coping strategies for handling withdrawal. Additional details can be found at www.gaycenter.org/health/smokefree.