Higher Cigarette Taxes Lower Suicide Rates

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Many mental health professionals look the other way when it comes to their patients smoking cigarettes, as they may appear to have a soothing effect. However, a new study has found that smoking cigarettes may have negative effects on mental health – in addition to the habit’s well-known physical effects.

In the study, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine and the University of Illinois took advantage of a natural sociological experiment – the skyrocketing taxation of cigarettes in the name of public health. The study team found that in states with greater taxes on cigarettes and more stringent policies to reduce smoking in public places, suicide rates dropped up to 15 percent, in relation to the national average, according to their report in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

“Our analysis showed that each dollar increase in cigarette taxes was associated with a 10 percent decrease in suicide risk,” said study author Richard A. Grucza, an associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University. “Indoor smoking bans also were associated with risk reductions.”

In the study, researchers examined information generated as individual states took distinct approaches to taxing and regulating cigarettes. From 1990 to 2004, states that implemented decisive tobacco-control policies saw their suicide rates lessen, compared to the national average.

The reverse was true in states with lesser taxes and relatively relaxed policies toward smoking in public. In those states, suicide rates boosted as high as 6 percent, in relation to the national average, during the same interval. From 1990 to 2004, the average yearly suicide rate was around 14 deaths per 100,000 people.

The researchers also categorized each suicide death by using the state where the person had lived, in addition to how decisive that state’s tobacco policies were during the study period. Using statistical procedures, the scientists determined if people who had committed suicide were regular smokers. They discovered that suicide risk among people who probably smoke was in fact connected with tobacco tax policies and state smoking laws.

“If you’re not a smoker, or not likely ever to become a smoker, then your suicide risk shouldn’t be influenced by tobacco policies,” Grucza said. “So the fact that we saw this influence among people who likely were smokers provides additional support for our idea that smoking itself is linked to suicide, rather than some other factor related to policy.”

The researchers speculated that smoking may boost the risk for psychiatric disorders, or make them more acute, which can impact suicide risk. They also warn about the potential negative health impacts of e-cigarettes, which are currently unregulated by the FDA.

“I think we really need to look more closely at the effects of smoking and nicotine, not just on physical health, but on mental health,” Grucza said. “We don’t know what’s happening between smoking and suicide, but it could be it’s increasing rates of depression among smokers, it could be that increases rates of addiction to other substances…”

“So it seems very plausible that smoking is hazardous for mental health as well as physical health,” he added.

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