Why People Smoke: Mental Illness Is A Big Factor, Says New CDC Report

why people smoke

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.

Photo: Shutterstock

Share This Post:
    • Bosworth

      But will we still feed them McDonalds & GMOs & corn syrup & aspertame & hydrogenated vegetable oils & mind-altering pharmaceuticals?

      Of course we will! Cigarettes are bad for you. Cigarettes are also an easy target that attention away from other, perhaps, bigger problems.

      • mhikl

        You are wise, Bosworth. I feel honoured to follow your post.

    • mhikl

      “. . implementing tobacco-free campus policies in mental health facilities . . ” That’s just plain mean. Tobacco is bad, bad, bad but nicotine is the good. Look up the site “Tobacco Harm Reduction (http://www.tobaccoharmreduction.org) and you will find that if we would allow the concept of reduction to be part of the “Quit Smoking” campaign better progress might be made with eliminating cigarettes for more people. There are health benefits to nicotine for some: for example, smokers are less likely to get Parkinson’s Disease or suffer a less severe form of it if they do get it. Mental calm and alertness for a good percentage of the population occurs (“Light up Grade Threes”).

      I began smoking age 12 and with the first puff knew I had met my best friend. By age 54 I had eventually quit after numerous attempts involving many strategies. The first year was hell and the second wasn’t much better. I returned to a limited number of smokes off and on for the next two years, and was non-smoking most of the time. Then I discovered a miracle: electronic cigarettes from China, cheap and packed with nicotine but non of the mess that comes with cigarettes. I’ve been in heaven ever since. When I ran out of nicotine juice I knew it would take a week for my supply to come but I put off getting it. Within in a day or two after the last bit of droppings I could vape off ran out, I bought my first pack in four years. They were awful and I rarely used them. Then my supply arrived. It was heaven again.

      The problem is that I feel so dang good with my best bud. I proved I could quit but I also proved that life was miserable without nicotine. Nicotine is in nightshade plants that we often eat, spinach and tomatoes, are two common ones, but you have no idea how hard it is to keep a tomato lit.

      I truly shiver at the harshness of the cures that kill the patient for his/er own good. The medical and mental professions have always drawn far more than their fair share of those who harbour callous and cruelty in their power to invoke “in the name of best interests” but if more in these lines of work where better educated, fewer of these instigators would be allowed to spin their nasty webs.

      For the open minded, look at the THR site, which is run by a university professor or two, and get educated. For the mentally ill, I feel empathy for the ones who meet up with mean, fat, smoking, out-of-shape dieticians who know they can cure the world’s woes. From THR site, you would discover that there are mental and physical benefits for these distressed souls with mental illness, and for the rest of us in the fairly-large minority. And, too, so many would also benefit, by the calm and relief from the clamour and confusion that lifts and allows the sun to shine so much brighter.

      Those who speak the rules of the world that they know a-better-place-would-be-had-by-all “if only everyone would listen to them”, get a life. We are a complex species and,
      “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

      Maybe if Hamlet had cigarettes, electric of course, he might have had a little more patience with his mother and his other complexes.