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3 Ways Mental Health Organizations are Encouraging Smokefree Lifestyles
By the Quitter's Circle Staff
October 12, 2018

3 Ways Mental Health Organizations are Encouraging Smokefree Lifestyles

The following post was developed through a paid partnership with Quitter’s Circle, NAMI, and MHA.

Quitting smoking can be difficult for anyone. But it can be even more challenging for those experiencing mental illness.

Smoking is more common in adults with mental health disorders than those without – 35.8 percent of people living with mental illness are current cigarette smokers, compared to 15.5 percent of the general U.S. population. That’s why mental health organizations are working with federal agencies, government officials and nonprofit groups to enact policies that create healthier, smokefree environments for individuals with mental health issues.

Learn about three ways that mental health organizations are advocating for smokefree lifestyles.

Making treatment facilities smokefree

Imagine how difficult it must be to quit when people are smoking all around you. Many smokers face social barriers when trying to quit, and many people being treated for mental health conditions are in the same situation. In 2016, less than half of all mental health treatment facilities reported being 100 percent smokefree.

Mental health organizations and state officials are working toward reversing decades-old practices such as using tobacco as an incentive for people undergoing treatment. Many inpatient hospital programs still only allow residents to go outside when it’s for a smoke break, and cigarettes are often used as a reward for completing tasks.

But Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, Vermont and Virginia are among the states moving away from these practices and requiring psychiatric facilities to be 100 percent smokefree. And more are joining them. Three of Minnesota’s largest behavioral health organizations (serving a total of 40,000 people) will voluntarily go smokefree by the end of 2018. Read on to learn some of the benefits:

  • Psychiatric facilities that do not allow smoking report fewer behavioral incidents and instances of patient isolation.
  • Smokefree policies have been credited with reducing smoking rates and exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Psychiatric hospitals that do not permit smoking report fewer tobacco-related health issues in patients.

Screening for tobacco by mental health and substance abuse facilities and providers

It’s not enough for people with mental illnesses to be treated in a smokefree facility – they also need support and counseling to help them quit. For healthcare professionals to know when to provide cessation support and services, they must first know if they are treating an individual who smokes.

As of May 2018, only half of mental health treatment facilities and 64 percent of substance abuse facilities screen for tobacco use. Organizations such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration distribute toolkits to facilities advocating for screening. They also believe tobacco cessation counseling should be included in all behavioral health treatment.

People experiencing mental health issues who want to quit smoking could also benefit from similar interventions. Find out about some of the benefits:

  • Support from a healthcare provider that includes counseling and medication can double a smoker’s chance of quitting.
  • Studies show improvements in mood when patients quit smoking and a decrease in anxiety, depression, and stress.
  • Smoking cessation and addiction treatment resulted in a 25 percent increased likelihood of long-term abstinence from alcohol and illicit drugs.

Requiring smokefree public housing

Even for those undergoing treatment for mental illness in a smokefree facility, there are still triggers everywhere, including at home or work. As more and more companies create smokefree workplaces for their employees, federal officials – with the support of mental health and other advocates – are implementing tobacco-free policies in public spaces.

Public housing units and administrative buildings in the U.S. are now smokefree, including inside and around buildings. The main goal is to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke for people living in public housing. But the move may also cause some residents and staff to quit smoking. This policy will potentially also benefit people with mental illness who smoke, since they are more likely to live below poverty level.

The American Lung Association’s Smokefree Housing Initiative partnered with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Mental Health America on a program called Smokefree at Home: Implementing Smokefree Policies at HUD (Housing and Urban Development) Properties to publicize the policy and advocate for making sure people with mental illness can comply with the smokefree policy and stay in their homes. This includes building awareness about potential options to help residents quit smoking.

Smokefree housing is a health benefit for all. Read on to learn more about the benefits:

  • More than 2 million public housing residents will be protected, including thousands of children.
  • Eliminating secondhand smoke creates a healthier environment for non-smoking residents and children since smoke often travels between apartment units. Children who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to get sick.  
  • The chance of accidental fire and deaths from fire decrease when a home is smokefree. And there’s less of a risk of burns to people or property damage.

It’s up to all of us to create a smokefree community and protect at-risk populations and others from the dangers of tobacco. Communities like Quitter’s Circle provide tools and resources to help smokers in their quit journey, including resources to connect with a healthcare provider.


See additional quit smoking resources from our partner American Lung Association.