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E-cigarettes Still A Risk for People Living With Mental Illness

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We have known for some time that people living with mental illness are much more likely to use tobacco products than those without mental illness.  It’s estimated that more than half the cigarettes purchased in the United Sates are consumed by people with mental illness.  Now, a recent article in Time magazine, The Weird Link Between E-cigarettes and Mental Health Disorders, cites a new study which shows that people with mental illness are more than twice as likely to use e-cigarettes and three times as likely to do so regularly.


People with mental illness use e-cigarettes for two reasons: the perception of reduced risk and increased savings.   The perception that consumption of e-cigarettes is less costly than that of regular cigarettes is accurate.  A pack-a-day smoker will spend more than $2,000 a year on cigarettes, compared to about $800 a year for an e-smoker consuming an equivalent amount of nicotine.  However, e-cigarettes have been subject to much less regulation and scientific scrutiny than conventional tobacco products, and it is not at all certain that consuming an equivalent amount of nicotine by this method poses significantly reduced health risks over more traditional methods. 

E-cigarettes also make it easier for people to consume nicotine, a powerful and addictive drug which poses health risks of its own.  Liquid nicotine, the ingredient in e-cigarette cartridges is lethal in quantities of less than one tablespoon (a teaspoon or less for small children). The Center for Disease Control reports that the proportion of calls to poison control centers involving e-cigarette poisoning recently jumped to 41.7% of all calls, with more than half those call involving children under the age of  five!

Emily Arcamone, MFT, runs a weekly smoking cessation group at RtoR-affiliate Laurel House in Stamford, CT.  She reports that at least one of the regular participants in her weekly smoking cessation group uses e-cigarettes, although the other participants are more likely to smoke cigars to save money.  Emily’s group is based on the pioneering work of Drs. Jill Williams and Douglas Ziedonis, two psychiatric addiction specialists who have developed a model smoking cessation program for adults with serious mental illness.  Their treatment manual “Learning About Healthy Living: Tobacco and You” offers a full course plan and hand-outs to help people with mental illness end their dependence on nicotine and tobacco products.

Recent studies show that people with serious mental illness die, on average, 25 years earlier than the general population.  Use of tobacco products and nicotine are one of the leading contributors to this shocking trend.  Mental health practitioners such as Emily Arcamone at Laurel House, Dr. Williams and Dr. Ziedonis are at the forefront of efforts to reverse that trend.

Photo credit: Vaping360


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Jay Boll, Editor in Chief www.rtor.org

3 thoughts on “E-cigarettes Still A Risk for People Living With Mental Illness

  1. Janice says:

    This is an interesting topic that will undoubtedly impact most people. With very few regulations in place or laws banning the use of e-cigarettes in public places, non-smokers are being exposed to the vapor that is emitted in places where traditional cigarettes are not permitted, such as work, bars, and restaurants. This is alarming since there is still debate over whether the vapor is less harmful than traditional cigarettes.  

  2. Jay Boll, Editor in Chief says:

    You are right, Janice, that there is no scientific consensus on the effects of second-hand vapor from e-cigarettes and few restrictions on where these products can be used. The advent of e-cigarettes makes it easier for people to use nicotine products at work and other public places, and takes away one of the incentives for quitting. 

    Many of the program participants at Laurel House started smoking during long-term stays in psychiatric hospitals.  Fortunately, that no longer happens and I've seen several people permanently quit following a brief hospitalization, when they did not have access to tobacco products.  

    By the way, Dr. Ziedonis' program uses medically supervised nicotine replacement therapy to help people quit for good.  The problem with e-cigarettes for people with mental health disorders is that there is little regulation of their use, little knowledge about their potentially harmful effects, and little or no plan to help people end their dependence on them. 



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