The Stolen Years

The mental health and smoking action report

Despite many years of progress, smoking remains still the single biggest cause of preventable and premature death in England killing almost 80,000 people every year.

What is more, smoking is a leading cause of inequalities. Smoking rates amongst people with a mental health condition are particularly concerning. Around one third of adult tobacco consumption is by people with a current mental health condition and whilst less than 20% of the general population smoke, this figure is around 40% in those with a mental health condition, and up to 70% in people discharged from a psychiatric hospital.

This difference in prevalence has dire consequences. People with mental health conditions die on average 10-20 years earlier than the general population and smoking is the single largest factor in this shocking difference. People with a mental health condition are just as likely as other smokers to want to quit, but because they are more likely to be heavily addicted to smoking, they need more support to be successful. This support is sadly lacking: when ASH asked smokers with a mental health condition if anyone providing inpatient care had offered them help to stop smoking two thirds told us no one had. Clearly there is an urgent need for action.

ASH has published a new report entitled The Stolen Years: The mental health and action smoking report setting out the urgent action needed to get smoking rates falling in this population. The report has been endorsed by 27 leading mental and public health organisations, including Rethink Mental Illness and the Royal College of Psychiatrists and has been informed by a wide range of people, from experts by experience to those working in mental health, public health and the NHS.

Our ambition is that smoking among people with a mental health condition declines to be less than 5% by 2035, with an interim target of 35% by 2020. This is an undeniably ambitious target and there is no single measure that will help us get there. Key areas identified in The Stolen Years for action include:

  • National targets and leadership to drive action across the country
  • A strong focus on the skills and training of the workforce
  • Availability of evidence-based services alongside peer support for all those who need them
  • Better access to the medications that will help people to quit
  • Improved understanding that electronic cigarettes provide a less harmful alternative to smoking
  • Moving to smokefree mental health settings alongside provision of the right support to smokers

The publication of this report is only the start of work on this agenda. After decades of stagnation, change is only possible with collective action. If we are to achieve our ambition and drive real change in this area all parts of the health and social care system from national government through to local authorities, the NHS and care providers will need to play their part. Failure to act now would be to condemn thousands of people with a mental health condition to early death and debilitating disease and would widen the already appalling gap in life expectancy.

ASH is a public health charity that works locally, nationally and internationally to try and achieve a vision: a society free from the harm caused by tobacco. You can access “The Stolen Years: the mental health and smoking action report” here.