MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Through his research, John Blosnich, M.P.H., has discovered that compared to their heterosexual peers, gay, lesbian and bisexual young adults who smoke have higher odds of contracting respiratory illnesses. Now he wants to know why those sexual minorities smoke as much as they do. Blosnich, a Ph.D. student in the West Virginia University Department of Community Medicine, recently received a grant for more than $40,000 from the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

In the study titled, “Disparities in Smoking and Acute Respiratory Illnesses Among Sexual Minority Young Adults,” Blosnich, fellow WVU Ph.D. student Traci Jarrett and their advisor Kimberly Horn, Ed.D., associate professor in the Department of Community Medicine, examined whether sexual minorities experience more of the diseases caused by tobacco.

“We know that sexual minorities smoke more than the general population. Given that we know smoking causes a lot of illness and disease, we had assumed that if sexual minorities smoke more than their heterosexual peers, it stood to reason that they would probably experience more respiratory illnesses than heterosexuals,” Blosnich said.

The trio found that the sexual minorities in their sample had an increased chance of having strep throat, sinus infections and bronchitis in the past year. They also found that a significant part of those increased chances of illness can be explained by smoking.

The study was published in the October edition of the medical journal “Lung.” To read the study see

Now, Blosnich will use his federal grant from NIDA to specifically examine the risk factors for smoking among sexual minorities and try to answer the question of why they smoke more.

“We don’t really have a good grasp on why sexual minorities smoke more, but we think it may have to do with issues of discrimination, violence and harassment, which can increase stress and decrease self worth,” he said.

Blosnich is the first public health sciences Ph.D. student at WVU to receive this type of grant.

“Writing the grant was definitely challenging, and it feels great to have it be well received by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. I have wonderful support here at WVU,” he said.

He credits his success thus far to the guidance of his advisor Dr. Horn.

“Dr. Horn is wonderful, and she is immensely supportive of the type of research I do. I began my grant application in her Grantwriting for Public Health class, and I know that my application was made better and more competitive because of her guidance and experience,” he said. “Great mentorship is such a big part of our doctoral program, and the successes I experience are, in no small part, due to the amazing mentorship of Dr. Horn.”

Blosnich originally anticipated graduating with his Ph.D. in May 2011, but with the grant award, he is now planning to add a fifth year putting him at May 2012 for graduation. After graduation, he plans to apply for post-doctoral positions. “I aspire to do more research to document and address health disparities among sexual minority populations,” he said.

For more information: Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
asj: 10-19-10