More “First Things First” – Half the cigarettes in America

AODA/mental health patients smoke half the cigarettes in America. They’re dying from it. Most want to quit. Many have tried. For example: My story is available here, on my website, and I’ll be writing more about the Center for Tobacco Research and the problems associated with smoking and mental illness shortly. . .

The facts are startling: 50% of people with persistent mental illness smoke compared to 18% of the general population; they consume 40% of all cigarettes smoked. The result is 200,000 deaths of  individuals with mental illness in the US  per year from smoking. The average lost years of life spans 20 -24 years! That is right, people with mental illness who smoke, as a group, live 20 – 24 fewer years than the general non-smoking population.  You can view this and more great information at the Center for Tobacco Research & Intervention, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison.

Smoking: Serious and Plentiful Challenges

As the smoking statistics imply, there are many additional challenges for people with mental illness who wish to quit. For one thing, they smoke “harder” than their counterparts (e.g., smoke more of the cigarette) and they begin smoking  earlier.  They lack of confidence about their life and about their chance of quitting.  And are more likely to make unaided quit attempts without benefit of evidence-based treatment.

The above are serious and plentiful challenges – did I mention high stress and lack of support? But there are more…..some people with mental illness receive an “unhelpful” response from their health care providers. The professional can say “it’s not in the scope of my job” (to help someone stop smoking). Few professionals identify and document smoking status,  and some say…”I don’t know how important ths is for the health of my patient”……,  Many conclude/assume their patients don’t want to quit (UW-CTRI reported on a study where 83% of smokers have tried to quit.)

In addition, some providers feel that trying to quit will harm the patient (for example, de-stabilize the person, or “now is not the time – we’ll do it later”) or don’t know how important smoking cessation is. Then there is also the belief or thought that …smoking is one of the few pleasures my patient has…. And lastl,” I don’t know how to help”, “I don’t have time” and “I don’t know how to bill for tobacco dependence treatment”.(Poor things!)

Dr Bruce Christiansen PhD, Lead Researcher at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention states “Those with significant mental illness who smoke need treatment of greater intensity than the typical smoker while currently they are getting far less, resulting in a considerable treatment gap.”

The Quit Line

How is tobacco dependence treated? Counseling, support, and medication for starters.  How about free?: Free coaching, free materials, and, if you need it, free medication? If you’re even thinking of quitting, call:


Hours:  7 am to 11 pm daily

Click the link above, or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669)

1-877-2NO-FUME (Spanish)

1-877-777-6534 (TTY)

This free service is offered by the Center for Tobacco Research & Intervention at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Its website is excellent. Easy to use and full of great information for the smoker or the family and friends of smokers. The main menu has sections anyone can access for Researchers, Health Care Providers, Smoker, Insurer and Employer. They have information on E-cigarettes! Topics include: What happens when you quit smoking (from 20 minutes to 15 years out), helping someone else quit, cost savings, time savings, etc.  Plus There’s a list of services to help you quit and videos with quit tips, various publications, a glossary, Quit Smoking apps, and more.

Just a great resource.