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E-Cigarettes Should Be Part of Support for Smokers Suffering from Mental Illness, Experts State

The Mental Health & Smoking Partnership, an initiative of some of the most important anti-smoking and mental health organisations in the UK, recently put out a statement on electronic cigarettes, asking health professionals to consider them as support to help smokers suffering from mental illness quit.

smok-brit-one-mega-kitResearch shows that tobacco smoking is much more prevalent among people with mental health conditions than among the general population. In the UK, the number of adult smokers has been on the decline for many years, and recent national surveys show that 16% of the adult population smokes. Things are much different for adults suffering from metal health problems. Last year, a study conducted by The King’s Fund showed that smoking rates in psychiatric units can be as high as 70%. While science has so far been unable to clearly identify the connection between nicotine and conditions like schizophrenia, smoking is often regarded as normal social activity in psychiatric facilities, and patients are rarely encouraged to quit. These things considered, the Mental Health & Smoking Partnership consider e-cigarettes to be a valuable tool for tobacco harm reduction among sufferers of mental illnesses.

“E-cigarettes offer another opportunity for smokers with mental health conditions that haven’t been able to stop using other methods,” said Alyssa Best, of Cancer Research UK, a member of the partnership. “They should be offered as a legitimate method of quitting across all mental health settings.”

“E-cigarettes provide a new opportunity for people to move away from smoking and avoid the terrible burden of death and disease it causes,” Ann McNeil, co-chair of the Mental Health & Smoking Partnership, and Professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London, added.

Unfortunately, despite growing scientific proof that vaping is considerably safer than smoking and that e-cigs can be an efficient alternative to tobacco cigarettes for smokers suffering from mental health conditions, the policies of mental health institutions and organizations on electronic cigarettes are inconsistent with the evidence.

“Smoking remains part of the culture in too many mental health settings, making cessation more difficult. Smokefree policies are a vital means of changing this culture and can be implemented successfully with the right leadership and support for patients and staff,” the Mental Health & Smoking Partnership statement on e-cigarettes mentions. “To help smokers to stop smoking and stay smokefree, a more enabling approach to vaping should be considered to make it an easier choice than smoking.”

The partnership statement emphasizes that “vaping is different to smoking” and that “e-cigarette use does not meet either the legal or clinical definition of smoking”, so it is therefore up to “managers and commissioners of health services to determine whether and where to permit electronic cigarette use in enclosed public places, including in-patient facilities for people with mental health conditions.”

“To help smokers to stop smoking and stay smokefree, a more enabling approach to vaping should be considered to make it an easier choice than smoking. Vapers should not be required to use the same space as smokers, as this could undermine their ability to quit and stay smokefree,” the partnership writes.

The Mental Health & Smoking Partnership, an initiative of notable UK health organizations like The Royal College of Psychiatrists, Cancer Research UK, or Action on Smoking and Health, hopes to reduce smoking rates among people with a mental health condition to 5% by 2035.

The life-saving potential of electronic cigarettes among smokers suffering from mental health conditions has already been suggested by a pilot study in Italy, which found that that e-cigarette use substantially decreases analog cigarette consumption in patients suffering from schizophrenia.

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