A Hidden Epidemic

The Washington Post has a great op-ed on smoking among people with mental illness:

Virtually everyone knows about the connection between smoking and health. Smoking causes 440,000 deaths a year in the United States (50,000 of which are from exposure to secondhand smoke) and 5 million worldwide. It shortens smokers’ lives by 10 to 15 years, and those last few years can be a miserable combination of severe breathlessness and pain.

But few are aware that smoking is concentrated among people with mental illness, often compounded by substance-abuse disorders such as alcoholism. Go to most Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and the room will be so full of smoke that you can cut it with a knife. Ask the members, and they will tell you that it was much easier to stop drinking than to stop smoking. Indeed, nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco smoke, is as habituating as cocaine or heroin, and it has a similar effect on chemical receptors in the brain.

The facts about smoking and mental illness are stark. Almost half of all cigarettes sold in the United States (44 percent) are consumed by people with mental illness. (emphasis added) This is because so many people who have mental illnesses smoke (50 to 80 percent, compared with less than 20 percent of the general population) and because they smoke so many cigarettes a day — often three packs. Furthermore, smokers with mental illness are much more likely to smoke their cigarettes right down to the filters.

His comments about AA wouldn’t be accurate around here. Certainly, smoking rates among AA members are very high, but I think most meetings are non-smoking. I haven’t been to a smoking meeting in close to 10 years.

2 thoughts on “A Hidden Epidemic

  1. To the commenter: The link to the original op-ed has been added.I’d be happy to approve your post if you refrain from flaming. Make your arguments for harm reduction and alternative treatments, but spare us the insults. I’d have been happy to reply directly if you had not sent your comments anonymously.


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