You barely have to look at smoking statistics to know that it’s terrible for your health, and with so many anti smoking campaigns educating Americans about why they should quit smoking (and never start), it’s hard to imagine why people smoke at all. But a new CDC report says that it isn’t just because of advertising that covertly appeals to teens, or movies that make it look cool: Mental illness could be a big factor, too.
The report, which was also put together by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), says that 36.1% Of mentally ill adults are current smokers; only 21.4% of the rest of the population smokes. And they’re also less likely to quit smoking: While more than half of non-mentally ill smokers quit over their lifetimes, only 34% of mentally ill smokers do.
The data comes from the 2009–2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), and measured smoking rates for adults 18 and older who suffer mental illness. According to their report, that’s “defined as having a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, excluding developmental and substance use disorders, in the past 12 months,” and based on the 2009-2011 data, 19.9% of adults fit into that category.
Among the adults who suffer mental illness, there were also specific trends among smokers: Smoking prevalence was highest among men, young adults (those under the age of 45), and those living below the poverty level. And it was lowest among those with a college degree.
None of these new smoking statistics explain exactly why people smoke, but the report authors think they could help create new public policies to reduce smoking in the mentally ill. Their suggestions include banning smoking from mental health facilities and using mental health care providers to help screen for tobacco use and encourage quitting smoking programs for those who do smoke:
Proven population-based prevention strategies should be extended to persons with mental illness, including implementing tobacco-free campus policies in mental health facilities. Primary care and mental health-care providers should routinely screen patients for tobacco use and offer evidence-based cessation treatments. Given that persons with mental illness are at risk for multiple adverse behavioral and health outcomes, tobacco cessation will have substantial benefits, including a reduction in excess morbidity and mortality attributed to tobacco use.
And although the report is mostly focused on smoking prevention and cessation, the data also provides yet another reason that improving the treatment of mental health should be a top healthcare priority.