Despite a major decline in cigarette smoking in the general adult population, smoking rates in people with mental illness have remained the same for a decade, according to new research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
In fact, one-third of current adult smokers suffer from some type of mental illness, and so far, anti-smoking efforts have not seemed to affect this particular population.
“Individuals with mental illness represent approximately one-third of the adult smokers in the U.S., and we need to develop alternative tobacco control strategies, including targeted treatments for this vulnerable population,” said Marc L. Steinberg, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and lead author of the study.
“Tobacco control has been relatively successful in helping some groups quit smoking, but the remaining smokers may be the ones who are the hardest to treat. We need to address the health disparities of the remaining smokers, such as those with lower socioeconomic status and mental health problems.”
For the study, researchers analyzed data of New Jersey residents who had been surveyed by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
In this system, data was collected from telephone surveys independently conducted in all 50 states that compiled chronic health information from adults aged 18 and older and then pooled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The findings show that during the 10-year period examined by researchers at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, smoking prevalence was greater in people suffering with behavioral health conditions, compared to persons with better mental health.
“Our research found that while smoking rates have been going down in New Jersey adults without mental health problems, they have remained steady for those with mental health problems,” said Steinberg.
“This suggests that tobacco control strategies are not reaching those with poor mental health, or, if they are, their messages are not translating into successful cessation.”
Steinberg and his colleagues also examined quit attempts by current smokers. They found that those with poor mental health tried to quit just as often as those who were mentally healthy, but tended to relapse and start smoking again.
“Evidence shows that there has been a significant decrease in smoking in adults, and our data indicates that people with mental illness attempt to quit smoking at the same rate as those without mental illness, yet they are not as successful,” said Steinberg.