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Curtin University
Collaboration for Evidence, Research and Impact in Public Health

Tobacco and Marginalised Populations - Lesbian and Bisexual Women Study


Project Manager/Investigator



  • Curtin Strategic International Research Scholarship

Project Aims and Objectives

  • The aim of this study is to develop a theory of smoking behaviour within the lesbian community.

Through describing the social actions and interactions of lesbians who smoke, the following objectives of the study will be met:

  • Synthesise a coherent description of the social activities and social interaction of smoking behaviour among lesbians.
  • Assess individual explanations and beliefs about smoking behaviour.
  • Analyse the impact of belonging to, and identification with a marginalised group on smoking behaviour.
  • Generate social definitions of smoking among lesbians.
  • Interpret the role of smoking within an individual’s life course to assess the effect of life course on smoking behaviour of lesbians.
  • Develop recommendations for approaches to reduce the prevalence of smoking among lesbians.


This study seeks to explore social determinants of health in a marginalised group, specifically as manifested in prevalence of smoking. Marginalisation relates to stigma, prejudice and discrimination and marginalised groups have been associated with poorer health outcomes. Research has consistently concluded that these groups have poorer health outcomes on many markers including obesity, illicit drug use, physical activity and cigarette smoking.
Lesbians/same sex attracted women are a marginalised group within most societies. Cigarette smoking in lesbian women is markedly higher than the wider community of women. While smoking rates have gradually been declining in Australia and most developed countries, since the Second World War for men and approximately the 1960s for women, the prevalence of smoking among lesbians remains consistently higher than the wider community.

Little attention has been paid to understanding what social factors are at play to explain this within the lesbian community. Cigarette smoking in a lesbian community will be investigated in order to develop a model which explains the health related behaviour of cigarette smoking within marginalised groups in Western societies.

Project Overview

Qualitative research methodology will be used to undertake a series of in-depth interviews with sample participants. This will be analysed to answer the research question. The study uses a constructionism research framework and the theoretical perspective of symbolic interactionism. Grounded theory methodology will be employed using in-depth interviews with a purposive sample drawn from the lesbian community in Perth. Participants will be drawn from a purposive sample from Western Australian women who identify as lesbian/bisexual women and are connected to the gay community.

Current Project Status

This is being undertaken as PhD research project. Data has been collected and the thesis is partially completed. Final write up is expected to be completed in the next six months.

Conference Presentations

  • Comfort, J. (2010) Dementia: unique challenges of dealing with lesbian and gay people (Keynote address). Many Voices: dementia and minority groups, Alzheimer’s Australia WA Ltd, Perth, 16 September 2010.
  • Comfort, J. (2010) Lesbians and smoking: understanding the higher prevalence. 6th Australian Women’s Health Conference ‘Women’s Health: The New National Agenda’, Hobart, 18-21 May 2010.