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Are Health Organizations Ignoring Correlation Between Mental Health and Vaping?

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A bevy of questions are being posed at the end of 2018 — no different than any other time in our industry — but possibly more important than ever before. This blog’s question to our loyal readers poses the same as a statement in a recent op-ed in Filter, an organization that advocates through journalism “for rational and compassionate approaches to drug use, drug policy and human rights.” Filter’s statement reads: “By ignoring vaping, mental health orgs abandon vulnerable smokers.

We place a lot of importance on the value of vaping as a tobacco harm reduction tool for adult smokers, but there is a subset of those with psychiatric diagnosis’ that could be even more vulnerable. Filter cites recent statements from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), which supported use of vaping for people with psychiatric diagnoses. “The RANZCP acknowledges that e-cigarettes and vaporisers provide a less harmful way to deliver nicotine to people who smoke, thereby minimising the harm associated with smoking tobacco and reducing some of the health disparities experienced by people living with mental illness.”

Filter supports RANZCP’s claim with these astounding numbers:

  • In Australia, 70 percent of people with schizophrenia and 61 percent of people with bipolar disorder smoke. However, Australia has banned vaping, and we all know what’s happening in America, thanks to our monthly banning blog and flavor bans that are coming down the pipeline.
  • Worldwide, people with mental health diagnoses have the highest smoking rates, are more likely to smoke and tend to smoke more heavily than the general population. They also have traditionally low smoking cessation rates and are less likely to succeed during attempts.
  • People with mental health diagnoses in the U.S. account for 40 percent of all cigarettes smoked and die on average 25 years before the general population. Of the 480,000 people who die in the U.S. from smoking-related diseases each year, it’s estimated that 200,000 had a mental health diagnosis.

Yet, in the United States, mental health organizations haven’t yet taken vaping’s side in tobacco harm reduction efforts. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) shares on its website consequences of smoking, however it doesn’t advocate vaping as a cessation tool. The site says instead, “individuals with serious mental illness do not need to smoke to self-medicate.” Filter’s argument says, “reality shows that they already are self-medicating for the positive effects of nicotine — which has been shown to ameliorate the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and the side effects of psychotropic medications. Filter also shares claims from The National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America, both organizations that have yet to take positions on vaping.

However, in the UK in the past several years, some organizations have come out in favor of vaping. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) released its The Stolen Years in 2016, a report on mental health and smoking. In it, the recommendation was “Evidence-based information should be available to all those with a mental health condition about a range of alternative nicotine containing products including electronic cigarettes.” The report was endorsed by The Royal College of Psychiatrists and Rethink Mental Illness, according to Filter. Additionally, some UK-based mental health hospitals that went smoke-free also offered free e-cigarettes as alternatives, as evidenced by one in Leicestershire, England.

Louise Ross, the program’s Stop Smoking Service Manager, told Filter: “The patients understood why the wards would become smoke-free, but they wanted to use e-cigarettes as a way to manage their nicotine needs. Our policy was written to reflect their views, and every effort has been made to help patients, staff and visitors see this as a positive step forward. Vaping is allowed in the grounds, and smoking is not. This helps to manage nicotine needs while at the same time giving people a chance to try a far less harmful way of using nicotine than by smoking. Nicotine replacement products are also available through the pharmacy on site.”