Ciaran Osborne, Director of Policy, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

More than two in five people with severe mental illness (such as schizophrenia, bipolar) smoke. That’s around three times the rate in the general population.

That difference is the biggest single cause of the large (and growing) gap in life expectancy between those with severe mental illness and those without. If we want to improve quality of life for people with severe mental illness, providing help to quit smoking is one of the best things we can do.

That’s why new research published this week in The Lancet Psychiatry is so encouraging. The SCIMITAR+ research (run by Prof Simon Gilbody and the excellent team at The Mental Health and Addiction Research Group, University of York) has proved that stop smoking support works for people with severe mental illness. In fact, this programme of support doubled quit success rates at six months, compared to referrals to local stop smoking services.

Not only that but quitting (or trying to quit) was not associated with any deterioration in participants’ mental health, despite often expressed concerns.

This research is a vital – and timely – tool to help people with severe mental illness stop smoking. For too long we’ve allowed stopping smoking to be low down the list of priorities for this group.

In part, I think, because we were worried about what the impact of stopping smoking would be (despite evidence to the contrary!).

But those concerns have helped contribute to an environment where some people start smoking when they are admitted to inpatient facilities. And where people with severe mental illness cannot access the support they need to stop smoking, even though they want to quit.

SCIMITAR+ shows us what works: mental health practitioners supporting people in their homes to quit, alongside supported access to Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and stop smoking medications.

And what currently doesn’t – including expecting people with severe mental illness to navigate the complexities of the healthcare system to access behavioural and medicinal support themselves.

We now know more about how to help people with severe mental illness to stop smoking successfully. Both the NHS Long Term Plan, and the upcoming Prevention Green Paper, present the ideal opportunities to put this learning into practice.

Photo by Giancarlo Revolledo on Unsplash