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Americans with serious mental illness are 70 percent more likely to be tobacco users

New York, NY - Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched their 5th annual “Tips From Former Smokers” campaign aimed at highlighting the harmful effects of tobacco use and the proven health benefits of quitting. The campaign, which runs from January to June 2016, will be disseminated nationwide through a range of print, online, and television media outlets. The compelling new ads features five personal stories from former tobacco users, including Rebecca, a Florida grandmother who began smoking cigarettes at 16. A tobacco user for 37 years, Rebecca finally quit smoking after suffering from depression and tooth loss.

Depression remains one of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., effecting nearly 7 percent of all Americans.1 On average, tobacco use rates are estimated to be 70 percent higher among adults with mental illness compared to the general population, with significantly higher rates of tobacco use among individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia (59 percent) and bipolar disorder (46 percent).2 Despite some misconceptions among medical and mental health providers around the ability and willingness of patients with mental illness to quit tobacco use, individuals with mental illness are just as likely to successfully quit using evidence-based cessation treatments as the general population, although intensive and longer treatment sometimes is required.3

In New York State, several efforts are underway to address the issue of tobacco use among individuals with mental illness. In partnership with 10 regional contractors across the State, the Center of Excellence for Health Systems Improvement (COE for HSI) for a Tobacco-Free New York is supporting the implementation of systems improvements at health care organizations, including mental health treatment facilities. This effort aims to engage and collaborate with health care organizations to implement systems that assure every patient is screened for tobacco use and receives evidence-based tobacco dependence counseling and treatment, if desired, as part of the standard care delivery.

“The harmful effects of tobacco use on individuals with mental illness will only decrease by ensuring the evidence-based best practices for tobacco dependence screening and treatment are implemented into standard delivery of care in mental health treatment facilities,” said Marcy Hager, Project Director of the COE for HSI.

Cigarette smoking remains the single largest cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 Americans each year. Nearly 45 percent, or 200,000, of those deaths are among individuals with serious mental illness.4

Tobacco users interested in quitting are encouraged to talk to their health care provider or visit to view the personal stories from the CDC campaign.

For more information about the work of the COE for HSI, visit

1 NeCenter for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50). Retrieved from

2 Mcclave, A. K., Mcknight-Eily, L. R., Davis, S. P., & Dube, S. R. (2010). Smoking Characteristics of Adults With Selected Lifetime Mental Illnesses: Results From the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. Am J Public Health American Journal of Public Health, 100(12), 2464-2472.

3 Schroader, SA, Morris CD. Confronting a neglected epidemic: tobacco cessation for persons with mental illness and substance abuse problems. Annual Review of Public Health, 2010; 31:297-314.

4 Bandiera F.C., Anteneh, B., Le, T., Delucchi, K., Guydish, J. (2015) Tobacco-Related Mortality among Persons with Mental Health and Substance Abuse Problems. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0120581. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0120581.

About CAI: CAI is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of underserved populations worldwide. For 37 years CAI has provided customized capacity building services to health and human service organizations in more than 27 countries and in all 50 states. Offering more than 1,500 training programs annually, CAI’s passionate staff works to fulfill its mission: to use the transformative power of education and research to foster a more aware, healthy, compassionate and equitable world. For more information about CAI, visit

About the Center of Excellence for Health Systems Improvement: With funding from the New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Tobacco Control, CAI serves as the Center of Excellence for Health Systems Improvement (COE for HSI) for a Tobacco-Free New York. The COE for HSI promotes large-scale systems and policy changes to support the universal provision of evidence-based tobacco dependence treatment services. The COE for HSI aims to support 10 regional contractors throughout New York State working with health care systems and organizations that serve those populations for which tobacco use prevalence rates have not decreased in recent years - adults with low incomes, less than a high school diploma, and/or serious mental illness. Focused on providing capacity-building assistance services around topics like how to engage and obtain buy-in from leadership to implement the kinds of systems-level changes that will result in identification and intervention with every tobacco user who seeks care, the COE for HSI also will offer materials and resources to support contractors in their regional work. For more information, visit


This website was developed with funding provided by the New York State Department of Health Bureau of Tobacco Control to CAI. Its contents are solely the responsibility of CAI and do not necessarily represent the official views of the New York State Department of Health.