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Doctors fear asking mentally ill to quit smoking
Date:9/9/2009

CHICAGO --- People with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are the heaviest smokers in the country, but their doctors are afraid to ask them to quit. They assume that if their patients try to quit smoking, their mental disorders will get worse.

That is a myth, according to Brian Hitsman, a tobacco addiction specialist and assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He also is a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.

This population's tobacco use and dependence need to be treated, he said. Hitsman has designed and published the first comprehensive, evidence-based plan for psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health providers to help their patients quit smoking. His paper appeared in a recent issue of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

"These doctors and mental health specialists focus on their patients' psychiatric health and lose track of their physical health," said Hitsman, who is a health psychologist. "Tobacco cessation gets a lot of attention, but we leave out a population that smokes the majority of all the cigarettes."

Between 40 to 80 percent of people with mental illness are daily smokers, depending on the disorder, compared to less than 20 percent of people who don't have problems with mental illness, according to research. The mentally ill also smoke more cigarettes per day -- often up to two packs. They have a disproportionately high rate of tobacco-related disease and mortality, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer, with a correspondingly heavy financial burden to the health-care system.

The mentally ill receive tobacco treatment on only 12 percent of their visits to a psychiatrist and 38 percent of their visits to a primary care physician, Hitsman said.

Doctors erroneously believe mental disorders will worsen if they take away a person's tobacco. "Not a si
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Contact: Marla Paul
marla-paul@northwestern.edu
312-503-8928
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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