Cigarette-lovers no doubt despised it and anti-smoking advocates applauded it, but its effect was beyond dispute.

When a progressive ban on indoor smoking in NSW pubs and clubs took effect in July, the days of enjoying a cigarette with a beer at the local were finally numbered.

By mid-2007, pubs will enforce a total ban on indoor smoking. Gay and lesbian venues will need to comply, but they could face resentment from more clients than mainstream pubs, if new international research is any indication.

According to a smoking study released in California this month, tobacco use in the gay and lesbian community is about double that in the general population.

About 28 percent of gay men smoke, according to the California Department of Health Services study, compared with 19 percent of men in general.

Smoking rates among lesbians were even higher: their 32.5 percent smoking level was almost triple that of women in the general population.

Among Australian gay men at least, smoking rates also appear to be disproportionately high, according to Ron Tripp, ACON’s HIV Living Men’s Health Promotion Coordinator.

Gay men are twice as likely to smoke as men in general, while smoking levels among HIV-positive men are twice as high again, according to research presented at a recent ACON tobacco use forum, Tripp said.

No data was presented about smoking habits among Australian lesbians.

The latest HIV Futures Survey, a biennial national study last released in 2004, showed almost half of people living with HIV/ AIDS were smokers.

Tripp -“ who is preparing new ACON tobacco education workshops -“ said higher smoking rates in the gay community could be linked to a greater emphasis on social life.

I think at the centre of it is the social interaction that’s enmeshed with smoking, Tripp said.

We tend to socialise in pubs and party atmospheres, so it has been a socially acceptable behaviour or addiction, if you will.

Smoking was a particular issue in the HIV-positive community, Tripp said, because recent research indicated possible links between some anti-HIV medication and heart disease.

There are implications that some of the medications are leading to cardio-vascular disease, raised blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels, Tripp said.

So it’s extremely important for people who are on [anti-HIV] medication, if they are smoking, that they address the issue, because it’s one of the things that they actually can take control of.

ACON’s Positive Living Centre in Surry Hills is due to introduce a smoking ban in the next six weeks.

Gay activists in California have explained higher LGBT smoking figures by speculating that some gays and lesbians start smoking when dealing with the difficulties of coming out, The Los Angeles Times reported.

But Tripp he had not seen much evidence in Sydney to support that theory.

For more information about the ACON smoking education initiatives call Ron Tripp or Carl Piraino on 9699 8756.

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