More needs to be done to help people with mental disorders stop smoking, experts said, after a new report found that the habit is one of the main reasons that those with mental illness have a lower life expectancy.
About 20% of the general population smokes but the figure among people with mental health disorders is 40%, according to the report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Royal College of Psychiatrists.
The report says it is likely that the high prevalence of smoking accounts for much of the “substantially” lower life expectancy of people with mental disorders - some of whom have a lower life expectancy of more than 10 years compared to the general population.
The colleges said the prevalence of smoking in the UK has fallen substantially over the past two decades but it has “barely changed” among people with mental health problems.
Smoking behaviours are often overlooked during the management and treatment of such conditions, they said.
The report found that only half of smokers with mental disorders are advised to quit and only one in 10 receive prescriptions for smoking cessation products.
The NHS’s bill for treating diseases caused by smoking in people with mental illness totals more than £700 million every year - based on the price of an estimated 2.6 million avoidable hospital admissions, 3.1 million GP consultations and 18.8 million prescriptions.
“As the prevalence of smoking in the UK falls, smoking is increasingly becoming the domain of the most disadvantaged in our society, and particularly those with mental disorders,” said Professor John Britton, chair of RCP’s tobacco advisory group.
“That smoking prevalence has remained so high in this group, especially among those with severe disease, is a damning indictment of medical practice and public health policy.
“It is time for a radical change in our approach to smoking in mental health care provision, to make non-smoking the norm, and significantly enhance life expectancy and quality among millions of people.”
Professor Louise Howard, professor of women’s mental health at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, added: “Support for people with mental health problems to stop smoking needs to be prioritised urgently to improve not only the health of this vulnerable group but also the next generation, as smoking is the leading preventable cause of fetal and infant morbidity and mortality - pregnant women with mental health problems are motivated to stop smoking but are more likely to be smoking through pregnancy than other women.”
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy and information, added: “This report is a strong reminder that urgent action is needed to support smokers to quit whatever their circumstances, and especially those who are more vulnerable or in need of specialist help.
“Increasingly we’re seeing the most disadvantaged in society continuing to smoke, including those with mental health conditions. It’s vital that staff being asked to help break the addiction of tobacco are given adequate training and support.
“This report offers many useful ways to reduce the burden of smoking in mental health settings. We hope they’ll be implemented as a priority. Smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer death, responsible for around 60,000 cancer related deaths in the UK each year.”
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