Young people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are twice as likely to have smoked than their heterosexual peers, according to new research published by the British Medical Journal.

Researchers from five UK Universities (UCL, University of Cambridge, London Metropolitan University, De Montfort University Leicester and Brunel University) looked at data from over 7,600 participants collected from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England.

The participants, aged 13 and 14, were asked about their cigarette smoking and alcohol use. Between the ages of 18 and 19 they were asked about their sexual identity.

Young people who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual (3.5% of the sample) were around twice as likely as heterosexuals to have smoked during the follow-up period.

Gay or lesbian participants were more likely to say that they drank alcohol frequently – to the point of intoxication.

Bisexual participants were more likely to have smoked but had similar alcohol use patterns to their heterosexual peers.

Lead researcher Dr Gareth Hagger-Johnson, from the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said: “Our research shows that despite recent social change, young people today who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual are twice as likely to have smoked as their heterosexual peers. Gay and lesbian young people also appear to have more frequent and more hazardous alcohol drinking patterns than heterosexuals.”

He added: “From a public health perspective, we need to understand why young gay, lesbian and bisexual people are more likely to engage in risky health behaviours than their heterosexual peers.

“This will need to involve longitudinal research, following a large sample of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people over time. We are concerned that ‘minority stress’, resulting from homophobia and heterosexism, might lead people to self-medicate symptoms of anxiety and depression with cigarettes and alcohol.”