It is well-established that cigarette smoking is linked to a greater risk of physical health problems, including lung cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and low birth weight. Now a new study finds that smoking is significantly linked to depression as well.
“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that smoking and depression are closely linked,” said Professor Hagai Levine from Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine. “While it may be too early to say that smoking causes depression, tobacco does appear to have an adverse effect on our mental health.”
The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The research team surveyed more than 2,000 students enrolled at Serbian universities with differing sociopolitical and economic environments. The findings show that students who smoked had rates of clinical depression that were two to three times higher than their non-smoking peers.
Specifically, at the University of Pristina, 14% of smokers suffered from depression as opposed to 4% of their non-smoking peers, and at Belgrade University the numbers were 19% to 11%, respectively.
Further, no matter their economic or sociopolitical backgrounds, students who smoked also had higher rates of depressive symptoms and lower mental health scores (such as vitality and social functioning) compared to non-smoking students.
The new findings emerge just as Israel began implementing a ban on store displays of tobacco products. The country also increased the size of cigarette box warnings from 30% to 65% and began requiring all tobacco and e-cigarette products to be sold in uniform packaging with no individual logos or company branding.
While these are important steps, in light of the new findings, Levine would like to see policymakers take into account smoking’s mental health effects, as well.
“I urge universities to advocate for their students’ health by creating ‘Smoke-Free Campuses’ that not only ban smoking on campus but tobacco advertising, too,” he said.
Combined with policies that prevent, screen and treat mental health problems, including addiction, these steps would go a long way towards combating the harmful mental and physical effects of smoking.
Levine conducted the study with Assistant Professor Tatjana Gazibara at the University of Belgrade and Ph.D. student Marija Milic from the University of Pristina.