By Sean O’Malley
CAMH Senior Media Relations Specialist
With World No Tobacco Day upon us, it may seem to the casual observer that the war on smoking has for the most part been won.
As CAMH’s 40th anniversary Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) indicated, smoking among high school students is at the lowest level ever recorded, down to 7 per cent from almost 30 per cent just 20 years earlier.
Decades of good public policy at all levels of government and beyond have had a lot do with that success. Just as drinking and driving is no longer socially acceptable, at some point smoking just wasn’t considered cool anymore.
But as CAMH Director of Medical Education Dr. Peter Selby explains in the latest CAMH podcast, this is no time for victory laps.
“We talk about this being an historical low, but the real historical low was no smoking,” he says, pointing out that smoking is still the number one cause of preventable death in Canada.
It also presents unique challenges for CAMH, because the rate of smoking among our patients is astronomically high relative to the general population – as high as 75 per cent among the severely mentally ill and up to 90 per cent for those being treated for other addictions.
“One of the things we are neglecting to do for our patient population is to pay attention to their whole mind and body,” says. Dr. Selby.
Not only does smoking interfere with the efficacy of some of the drugs used to treat mental illness including addiction, Dr. Selby says that smoking is the biggest reason why people with severe mental illness have a life-expectancy up to 25 years shorter than the general population.
Just like we know now that the damage caused by alcohol-use disorder goes far beyond cirrhosis of the liver, we also know that lung cancer is just one of the many life-threatening side-effects directly related to smoking.
For more of Dr. Selby’s insights into the relationship between smoking and mental health, you can listen to our latest podcast here.