With effective public health policies and better services for helping people stop smoking, the percentage of adults in the US who smoke has dropped by more than ½ in the past 50 years. However not all people have shared in this good news. Tobacco caused health problems increasingly disproportionately affects the more vulnerable among us.
One such group is people with mental illness and substance use disorders. In the US, about 40% of all cigarettes are smoked by a person with these problems. This is a big reason that people with a mental illness or substance use disorder die five years earlier on average than people without these problems.
This disparity hasn’t happened by accident; but in large part through design and neglect. The tobacco industry has funded research to foster the myth that quitting is too stressful for people with mental illness, has funded mental health organizations, and supported efforts to block psychiatric hospitals from joining all hospitals in becoming smoke free. Unfortunately mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities have too often failed to prioritize tobacco dependence treatments, despite the fact that smoking is the most likely cause of death for people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders.
I write this to raise awareness and encourage your advocacy. People with mental illness and substance disorders want to stop smoking just like people without these problems. They can and do stop with the right support and effective treatments. They deserve to share in the good news and good health of tobacco free living.