People with mental disorders are 70 percent more likely to smoke cigarettes than those without mental illness, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“Many people with mental illness are at greater risk of dying early from smoking than of dying from their mental health conditions,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC.
The agencies reveal that one of every three adults with mental illness smokes, compared with one in five adults without mental illness.
In fact, adults with mental illness smoke about one-third of all the cigarettes in the United States, and they smoke more cigarettes per month and are far less likely to quit than those without mental illness, according to the report. Nearly 46 million U.S. adults could be diagnosed with a mental illness in any given year — about one-fifth of the population.
The report is based on information from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in which 138,000 adults were interviewed in their homes between 2009 and 2011. Participants were asked 14 questions to assess psychological distress and disability, and they were considered to have mental illness if their answers indicated a mental, behavior or emotional disorder in the past 12 months.
Substance abuse or developmental disorders were not considered mental illness. The report did not include patients in psychiatric hospitals or individuals serving in the military.
People who reported smoking all or part of a cigarette in the previous 30 days were counted as smokers.
The study suggested several possible reasons why smoking among the mentally ill remains high, including marketing by the tobacco industry and the historical use of cigarettes as an incentive to improve behavior in psychiatric hospitals.
“There are some effects of nicotine which can mask some of the negative effects of mental illness,” Frieden said.
The study said that smoking can also make some medications less effective, which may then lead the person with mental illness to smoke more to quell symptoms. And it said that people with mental illness, many of whom struggle to live a financially and socially stable life, may be less able to cope with withdrawal symptoms from quitting cigarettes.