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Smoking hits those with mental health problems hardest

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by In collaboration with PA Media Group | News

13 April 2016

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Ashtray with cigarettes.

Smoking is main reason why people with mental health conditions have an average lifespan 10 to 20 years shorter than the general population, according to a new report.

The report, from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), found that around a third of adult smokers are people with a current mental health condition. Among this group, smoking levels are double that of the general population. 

“It’s vital that every smoker wanting to stop is supported to do so, and is offered advice and practical help” – Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK

Those with mental health conditions often want to quit but aren’t being offered the relevant support, says the report, which has been endorsed by 27 health and mental health organisations. 

It sets out recommendations for how smoking rates for those with a mental health condition could be brought down, including better access to the medications that will help people to quit, and moving to smokefree mental health settings alongside provision of the right support to smokers.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s cancer prevention champion, said it was “unacceptable” that people with mental health issues were so severely affected by smoking-related diseases.

“Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of inequalities in who develops cancer.

“Any person with an illness should be given the best possible care, and be treated as an individual. People with mental health conditions who smoke, and are dependent on nicotine, are no different.

“It’s vital that every smoker wanting to stop is supported to do so, and is offered advice and practical help – including having access to effective Stop Smoking Services.”

Paul Burstow, former Health Minister and chair of the report, said it was time to challenge the idea that smoking amongst people with mental health conditions was either inevitable or intractable. “It is not,” he said. 

“With a determined and collective effort we can save millions of people from early death, and avoid years of life being blighted by heart and lung diseases, stroke and cancer.” 

According to Cancer Research UK’s statistics, nearly 20 per cent of the UK’s cancer cases are linked to tobacco exposure, including more than 37,000 cases of lung cancer, 5,500 oesophageal cancers, 4,400 mouth cancers, and nearly 5,000 cases of bladder cancer.