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Connection between mental illness and tobacco use

New Analysis Defines Severity of Tobacco Use Among Kansans with Mental Illness

A new report by RTI International and funded by the Kansas Health Foundation confirmed the smoking rate among Kansas adults with mental illness is more than twice the smoking rate among adults without mental illness: 37.8 compared to 17.3 percent. Nearly one-half of Kansas adults who experienced serious mental illness in the past 30 days are smokers. Complete information can be found on either of the following documents:

Smoking rates are also high among Kansas adults with mental illness and low income (40.1 percent). Individuals below the poverty level make up 9.8 percent of the adult population in the state, but they make up 24 percent of the adult population with mental illness. Mental illness is significantly associated with poor physical health, including health problems exacerbated by smoking.

Smoking Chart
Additional findings include:

  • In 2012, 10.2 percent of Kansas adults reported experiencing mental illness, and 3.4 percent of adults reported experiencing serious mental illness.
  • Mental illness is significantly associated with poor physical health, including health problems exacerbated by smoking.
  • Adult smokers with mental illness were more likely to have tried to quit (64.7 percent) than those without mental illness (55.3 percent).
  • Youth who reported mental illness were more than twice as likely to be current smokers (26.8 percent) as youth without mental illness (10.9 percent).

Upcoming Fellows class to address connection between mental illness and tobacco use

Jeffrey Willett

The Kansas Health Foundation is committed to preventing and reducing tobacco use in Kansas.

Tobacco use, specifically cigarette smoking, remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Kansas, and reports indicate one out of every five Kansas adults smoke cigarettes. From a health perspective, this tobacco use was responsible for one out of every seven deaths in Kansas during 2012. The issue of tobacco use is also a matter of economics, as each year nearly $1 billion are spent in Kansas to treat smoking-related illnesses, with approximately $200 million coming in Medicaid expenditures.

Though progress has been made through the years on reducing tobacco use among the general population, there has been no progress reducing smoking among Kansans living in poverty and Kansans with serious mental illness.

Rates of tobacco use are highest among Kansans with mental illness, with some studies indicating Kansans with a mental illness are twice as likely to be smokers compared to those not suffering from mental illness. Additionally,

  • One out of four Kansas smokers (26%), has a mental illness.
  • In Kansas, people with mental illness likely smoke more than 1/3rd of all cigarettes smoked in our state.
  • People with mental illness die, on average, 25 years earlier than the general population. Largely the result of smoking and obesity.

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to the problem of tobacco use and mental health. The strategies used by public health, taxation and tobacco control programs, have not benefited the population with mental illness. The mental health system is struggling to treat tobacco use as a major health issue while also meeting the other needs of its consumers.

In response to both the problem of tobacco use among those with mental illness and the difficulties associated with making progress toward a solution on this issue, the Foundation has launched a new initiative to address tobacco use among Kansans with serious mental illness. The Foundation believes any solution to this enormous problem will require close collaboration between public health, mental health, advocates and consumers.

With this in mind, the Foundation plans to bring together 25 Kansans, representing diverse perspectives in tobacco control and mental health, for an intensive leadership development program known as the Kansas Health Foundation Fellows. Beginning in spring 2014, this group will work together to address the connection between tobacco use and mental illness through research, open dialogue and eventually recommendations on potential next steps.

If you are interested in learning more about this program, please contact Nadine Long, program manager for the Kansas Health Foundation Fellows program, at 316-261-1584 or You can also download the program application, which contains additional information.

Jeff Willett is vice president for programs at the Kansas Health Foundation and previously served as director of the New York State Tobacco Control Program. He is the co-author of a new article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry detailing the issue of tobacco use among those with mental illness.

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