Smoking Study: Tougher Laws May Decrease Suicide Risk

Smoking study researchers discovered that tougher laws against cigarette use can lead to lower suicide risk among smokers.

The findings were made public in a press release from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and first reported by MedicineNet.com.

In prior research, it had been shown that smokers were more likely to take their own lives than nonsmokers. That difference was credited to “the fact that smoking is common among people with psychiatric disorders, who have higher suicide rates,” MedicineNet reports, adding that the new smoking study suggested “smoking itself may increase suicide risk and that efforts to reduce smoking may lead to lower suicide rates.”

“Our analysis showed that each dollar increase in cigarette taxes was associated with a 10 percent decrease in suicide risk,” study leader Richard Grucza, associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in the university’s news release. “Indoor smoking bans also were associated with risk reductions.”

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For the study, published online July 16 in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, Grucza and his colleagues analyzed suicide rates across the United States between 1990 and 2004. During this period, some states introduced aggressive anti-smoking policies while others did little or nothing to reduce smoking.

Nationally, an average of 14 per 100,000 people commit suicide every year.

The study found that states that introduced higher taxes on cigarettes and stricter rules to limit smoking in public places saw suicide rates decline up to 15 percent, relative to the national average.

In states that had lower cigarette taxes and did little to limit smoking in public, suicide rates increased by up to 6 percent, compared to the national average.

In further comments, Grucza noted that “States started raising their cigarette taxes, first as a way to raise revenue but then also as a way to improve public health” and that “Higher taxes and more restrictive smoking policies are well-known ways of getting people to smoke less.”

“So it set a natural experiment, which shows that the states with more aggressive policies also had lower rates of smoking. The next thing we wanted to learn was whether those states experienced any changes in suicide rates, relative to the states that didn’t implement these policies as aggressively,” he said.

Furthermore, Grucza said that if one doesn’t smoke and is not in danger of becoming a smoker, “then your suicide risk shouldn’t be influenced by tobacco policies.”

“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.”

While researchers were not clear on how smoking affects suicide risk, they believed it was likely that nicotine was a factor.

“Nicotine is a plausible candidate for explaining the link between smoking and suicide,” Grucza said. “Like any other addicting drug, people start using nicotine to feel good, but eventually they need it to feel normal. And as with other drugs, that chronic use can contribute to depression or anxiety, and that could help to explain the link to suicide.”

Those are the findings. What do you think, readers? Does this smoking study have any weight, and do you think that smokers are at a higher risk of suicide? Sound off in our comments section.

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