People with mental health conditions (depression, ADHD for example) and substance use disorders are estimated to account for 40 percent of cigarettes smoked in the U.S., and 38 percent of military smokers start after enlisting. There is a higher than average prevalence of tobacco use among these two groups and it isn’t a coincidence. For years, the tobacco industry has exploited these, and many other populations, including African-Americans, low-income communities and LGBTQ individuals, to sell its products. While the industry calls this targeting and consumer choice, the facts reveal a more sinister pattern of exploitation.
The main reason that the tobacco companies targeted and exploited those who have mental health conditions and U.S. soldiers is because they see that population as a dollar sign and not as real people. Only 15 percent of adults still smoke nationwide. And the teen smoking rate is similarly low, at 6 percent.The tobacco industry makes $37 billion a year selling cigarettes to people with mental illness. This is a prime example of how the industry sees certain populations solely as business opportunities and exploits individuals with mental health conditions and members of the military. There are consequences to these targeting practices. Tobacco is now killing more than 540,000 people each year, hindering the recovery of those battling mental health conditions and putting the health and safety of our military service men and women at risk. The tobacco companies are prioritizing profits over public health. The tobacco companies have preyed upon this vulnerable population for financial gain. The truth: tobacco is the leading cause of preventable addiction, disease and death among those with mental illness. The evidence is clear that quitting smoking does not harm, and may even improve, mental health recovery. It’s time to clear the air.” Tobacco is still the number one cause of preventable death.
For decades, the tobacco industry has promoted their products to the mental health community with the idea of tobacco as medicine. The tobacco companies funded research, supported conferences and funded authors to generate the message that smoking a cigarette can relieve symptoms of schizophrenia, depression and anxiety, according to Dr. Judith Prochaska, associate professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and president of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. There is a growing body of evidence that shows people with a substance abuse disorder are more successful at avoiding a relapse if they quit tobacco while seeking treatment for an addiction. Research also shows that people in recovery from depression or mood disorders experience fewer symptoms if they have quit tobacco as part of their treatment. In the past, a major tobacco company saw the military as an attractive marketing opportunity because of its young adult servicemen that they described as “classic downscale smoker,” “less educated,” “part of the wrong crowd,” “in trouble with authorities” and having “limited job prospects. The Marines have the highest rate of smoking among all service members at 30.8 percent, followed by the Army at 26.7 percent, the Navy at 24.4 percent, the Coast Guard at 19.9 percent and the Air Force at 16.7 percent.