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Reversing course on allowing psychiatric patients to smoke

In case you haven't seen it, the front page of the New York Times includes a story today on the "growing effort" among health officials to ban smoking at psychiatric hospitals. Describing the history of promoting smoking among the mentally ill, Pam Belluck writes:

Hospitals often used cigarettes as incentives or rewards for taking medicine, following rules or attending therapy. Some programs still do. And smoking was endorsed by advocates for people with mental illness and family members, who sometimes sued to preserve smoking rights, considering cigarettes one of the few pleasures patients were allowed.


Socially, smoking provides “cover rituals for patients having psychiatric symptoms,” said Dr. Rona Hu, medical director of the acute psychiatric inpatient unit at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif. “You [tap] the box, you kind of play with the lighter, you can exhale and look into the middle distance and not look like you’re hallucinating.”

The article goes on to outline the problems with supporting cigarette use; Belluck cites a report showing that "people with the most serious mental illnesses die on average 25 years earlier than the general population, with many from smoking-exacerbated conditions like heart or lung disease."

Photo by Kr. B

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