Cover: Sexual Identity Differences in Tobacco (Re)Uptake

Sexual Identity Differences in Tobacco (Re)Uptake

Testing Mediation by Internalizing and Externalizing Symptoms

Published in: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 64, Issue 6, pages 824-833 (June 2023). doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2023.01.017

Posted on Aug 11, 2023

by Rebecca J. Evans-Polce, Megan S. Schuler, Luisa Kcomt, Vita V. McCabe, Sean Esteban McCabe


Tobacco use among gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals is disproportionately higher than among heterosexual individuals. Identifying the mechanisms behind these differences can inform prevention and cessation efforts aimed at advancing health equity. Internalizing and externalizing symptoms as mediators of tobacco (re)uptake among sexual minority individuals was examined.


Waves 4 and 5 of the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (2016–2019) study were analyzed in 2022. Adolescents aged ≥14 and adults years not using tobacco at Wave 4 (n=21,676) were included. Wave 4 sexual identity was categorized as heterosexual, gay/lesbian, bisexual, or something else. Associations of sexual identity with (re)uptake of cigarette use, E-cigarette use, and polytobacco use at Wave 5 were assessed, along with possible mediation of these associations by Wave 4‒internalizing and ‒externalizing symptoms.


Internalizing and externalizing symptoms predicted tobacco (re)uptake regardless of sexual identity, particularly for female individuals. Gay/lesbian females (AOR=2.26; 95% CI=1.14, 4.48) and bisexual females (AOR=1.36; 95% CI=1.06, 1.74) had greater odds of E-cigarette (re)uptake than heterosexual females. High internalizing and externalizing symptoms accounted for over one third of the difference in E-cigarette (re)uptake among bisexual compared with that among heterosexual females. Males who reported sexual identity as something-else had lower odds of cigarette (re)uptake than heterosexual males (AOR=0.19; 95% CI=0.06, 0.66); this association was not mediated by internalizing and externalizing symptoms.


Internalizing and externalizing symptoms uniquely contribute to E-cigarette (re)uptake among bisexual females. Strategies that reduce sexual minority stressors and resulting psychological distress may help to reduce tobacco use disparities.

Research conducted by

This report is part of the RAND external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.