Adults with some form of mental illness have a smoking rate 70 percent higher than adults with no mental illness, according to a report released this week.
The report, done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), found that 36 percent of adults with a mental illness are cigarette smokers, compared with only 21 percent of adults who do not have a mental illness.
According to research, nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States – about 45.7 million Americans—have some type of mental illness.
And among adults with mental illness, the CDC report said, smoking prevalence is especially high among: younger adults; American Indians and Alaska Natives; those living below the poverty line; and those with lower levels of education. And the differences also exist across states, with prevalence ranging from 18.2 percent in Utah to 48.7 percent in West Virginia.
A New York Times story on the study offered some explanations about why the mentally ill might be more prone to smoke. Nicotine can mask the effects of mental illness, the article said.
In addition, smoking can diminish the effectiveness of some drugs, so a person may then smoke even more to try to alleviate symptoms no longer being addressed by the medication, The Times said. And those with mental woes may not be able to deal with nicotine-withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit smoking.
As to the methodology of the study, combined data from SAMHSA’s 2009–2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) were used to calculate national and state estimates of cigarette smoking among adults aged 18 years and older who reported having any mental illness.
Mental illness was defined as having a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, excluding developmental and substance use disorders, in the past 12 months.
“Smokers with mental illness, like other smokers, want to quit and can quit,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement. “Stop-smoking treatments work-and it’s important to make them more available to all people who want to quit.”
The report found that on average adult smokers with mental illness smoke more cigarettes per month than those without mental illness (331 vs. 310 cigarettes). In addition, adult smokers with mental illness are also less likely to quit smoking cigarettes than adult smokers without mental illness.
“Special efforts are needed to raise awareness about the burden of smoking among people with mental illness and to monitor progress in addressing this disparity,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde said in a statement.
To try to address this issue SAMHSA has partnered with the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center (SCLC) to develop activities designed to get the mentally ill to stop smoking as part of behavioral health care. They have developed and implemented the 100 Pioneers for Smoking Cessation Campaign, which provides support for mental health facilities and organizations to undertake tobacco-cessation efforts.
SAMHSA and the SCLC expanded the Pioneers Campaign by working with states through Leadership Academies for Wellness and Smoking Cessation, whose goal is to reduce tobacco use among those with behavioral health needs and staff. Participating states bring together policymakers and stakeholders (including leaders in tobacco control, mental health, substance abuse, public health, and consumers) to develop a collaborative action plan.
The CDC also works closely with national partners, state tobacco control programs, and other stakeholders to address smoking among individuals with mental illness. For example, the Break Free Alliance, a CDC grantee, is working with national partners to address tobacco use in this population.