While the smoking rates of the general population in Australia have decreased significantly in the past 20 years the rates of smoking in the severely mentally ill have not decreased at all, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) warns.
Research shows that 70% of people with schizophrenia and 61% of people with bipolar disorder smoke compared to 16% of those without mental illness.
‘As smoking is the major cause of reversible heart disease it is crucial to bring these rates down,’ Professor Malcolm Hopwood, the President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists said.
‘People with mental illness experience significantly poorer physical health and a reduced life expectancy of 15 -20 years compared to the general population - this is an unacceptable situation.’
A new paper published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry (ANZJP) this week says that while smokers with serious mental health disorders are just as motivated to quit smoking and make repeated attempts to do so a range of factors including a more severe nicotine dependence makes it particularly difficult for them.
The article, Should we encourage smokers with severe mental illness to switch to electronic cigarettes? by Ratika Sharma, Coral Gartner, David Castle and Colin Mendelsohn examines the use of e-cigarettes as a harm minimization strategy to improve the health of smokers with severe mental illness.
The authors argue that new approaches are required to address these persistently high smoking rates and that encouraging smokers to switch from tobacco to e-cigarettes has the potential to substantially reduce the health, financial and social equity gap experienced by this disadvantaged group.
‘We need to look at a range of harm minimization strategies when we address the poor physical health of people with severe mental illness and the College is pleased to see work being done in this area,’ Professor Hopwood said.
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The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit www.ranzcp.org.