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Published July 20, 2021


Sexual violence increases e-cigarette use among students in a sexual minority, but not heterosexual peers

Researchers call for mental health and substance use interventions that support students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and unsure of sexual identity

High school students who are in a sexual minority and who experience sexual violence are more likely use e-cigarettes, according to a study by UB GSE researchers.

The research, published in Addictive Behaviors, sought to clarify the complex relationships between sexual violence, suicidal thoughts and plans, and feelings of sadness, and e-cigarette use among U.S. teens. Researchers analyzed the 2017 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which assessed the health behaviors of more than 7,900 U.S. high school students.

While suicidality was not directly tied to e-cigarette use, the study suggests there is a need for improved school-based mental health and substance use interventions for victims of sexual violence who are also sexual minorities, as sexual minority youth may be more likely than their heterosexual peers to abuse substances to cope with victimization, discrimination and stigmatization, said Courtney Doxbeck, a GSE doctoral candidate in the Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology.

She was the first author along with two other UB doctoral candidates, Joseph Jaeger, of GSE, and Jacob Bleasdale, of UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.

“Sexual minority students often experience rejection, harassment and abuse at the hands of friends, family and coworkers during a highly influential period of growth when they need social support the most,” said Doxbeck. “Such victimization and stigmatization may negatively impact their physical or mental health and lead to engaging in harmful health behaviors later in life.”

Although suicidality and sexual violence have been linked to substance abuse in the U.S., few studies have captured the potential relationship to e-cigarette use, which has become the most popular tobacco product among young people, she said.

“This study serves as a call to action for school administrators and public health officials to target interventions toward at-risk groups, as students may perceive e-cigarettes as less dangerous than traditional tobacco products, and therefore a safer method to consume nicotine or other substances,” Doxbeck said.

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