In 1966 close to 50 percent of Canadians aged 15 and over were smokers (Tasker, 2018). Fortunately, this presented the peak of cigarette addiction (Tasker, 2018). By 2015 the number of addicted individuals had fallen to 15 percent of the population, an encouraging figure given the health complications associated with smoking (Tasker, 2018). However, these figures shouldn’t encourage complacency. Recent reports have demonstrated a troubling trend: Smoking rates have ceased to decrease and may even be rising again (Tasker, 2018).
What can future addictions counsellors do to help those addicted to tobacco? While the exact reasons behind current addiction figures remain to be understood, this article will explore other important points concerning tobacco addiction.
Individuals Often Become Addicted to Cigarettes During their Teen Years
It has long been known that most individuals addicted to tobacco first tried cigarettes when they were teenagers (Statistics Canada, 2015). According to Statistics Canada, “In 2011, smokers continued to report that, on average, they smoked their first whole cigarette at the age of 16, and started smoking regularly at 18 years of age” (Statistics Canada, 2015). This is troubling information, given that “Research shows that the younger a person starts smoking, the more difficult it will be to quit later in life” (Statistics Canada, 2015). Factors that influence whether a teen first tries smoking include whether they had a close family member who smoked, pressure from friends and peers, and even exposure to media depicting smoking (MediResource, n.d.).
It is also important to note that impactful life events and mental health during childhood and adolescence also contribute to smoking rates. According to one study, “men and women whose parents divorced before they turned 18 were 48 percent and 39 percent, respectively, more likely to smoke” (Krans, n.d.). Another study found that “one-third of the depressed children were daily smokers by age 19—compared with only 2.5 percent of their non-depressed peers” (Krans, n.d.). In addition, several other studies have established a link between trauma and smoking, determining that “exposure to traumatic events yielded a significant increase in the odds of lifetime regular smoking. Nicotine dependence and cigarettes smoked per day was also significantly related to exposure to Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse.” (Roberts, Fuemmeler, Mcclernon, & Beckham, 2008) Together, these findings help illustrate just how important mental health and healing from trauma can be. It’s one of the reasons why students earning an addiction counsellor diploma complete courses in Youth Counselling and Sexual Abuse & Trauma Counselling.
There Is a Relationship Between Mental Health and Tobacco Addiction
The relationship between tobacco addiction and mental health goes far deeper than the above mentioned research. In fact, “People living with mental illness are more likely to smoke greater numbers of cigarettes, and be more heavily addicted and therefore at greater risk for smoking‐related health problems than the general population” (Mental Illness & Smoking, n.d.).
This can be especially pronounced among those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as it has been found that “Up to 88% of people with schizophrenia and 82.5 % of people with bipolar disorder smoke.” (Mental Illness & Smoking, n.d.). Indeed, what may perhaps be most troubling is that “the tobacco industry specifically marketed cigarettes to patients with schizophrenia and worked successfully to exempt psychiatric hospitals from smoking bans.” (Weir, 2013). Reports have also found that “tobacco companies funded research to support the idea that people with schizophrenia needed to smoke as a form of self-medication—a notion that hasn’t been borne out by the evidence.” (Weir, 2013)
Mental health professionals have worked hard over the years to dispel these myths (Weir, 2013). They emphasize that tobacco addiction can even have a negative impact on mental health, as “tobacco use is associated with greater depressive symptoms, a greater likelihood of psychiatric hospitalization and an increase in suicidal behavior.” (Weir, 2013)
Addictions Counselling Training Can Be a Powerful Tool for Overcoming Tobacco Addiction
What can be most heartbreaking for students in addictions counselling training and those living with tobacco addiction is that quitting can be especially difficult. Experts have determined that “About 2 out of 3 smokers say they want to quit and about half try to quit each year, but few succeed without help.” (The American Cancer Society, 2015)
Studies have even determined that “it may be harder to quit smoking than to stop using cocaine or opiates like heroin.” (The American Cancer Society, 2015) Indeed, “In 2012, researchers reviewed 28 different studies of people who were trying to quit using the substance they were addicted to. They found that about 18% were able to quit drinking, and more than 40% were able to quit opiates or cocaine, but only 8% were able to quit smoking.” (The American Cancer Society, 2015)
Fortunately, this is not to say that there is no hope for those living with tobacco addiction. Many different interventions are available for those looking to quit smoking, including group or individual counselling. For clients who use cigarettes as a coping mechanism, counselling can help to address underlying emotional issues (Bray, 2016). Counselling can also help to establish goals and help clients avoid relapse. According to recent findings, “having individual counselling could increase the chance of quitting by between 40% and 80%, compared to minimal support.” (Lancaster & Stead, 2017)
Would you like to help others overcome addiction?
Discover the addictions counsellor courses available at Rhodes Wellness College.
Bray, B. (2016). What counselors can do to help clients stop smoking. Counselling Today. Retrieved November 20, 2018 from: https://ct.counseling.org/2016/11/counselors-can-help-clients-stop-smoking/
Krans, B. (n.d.). Depressed Teens 13 Times More Likely to Smoke. Healthline. Retrieved November 20, 2018 from: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/mental-depressed-teens-many-times-more-likely-smoke-031513#1
Lancaster, T., & Stead, LF. (2017). Does individually-delivered counselling help people to stop smoking? Cochrane. Retrieved November 19, 2018 from: https://www.cochrane.org/CD001292/TOBACCO_does-individually-delivered-counselling-help-people-stop-smoking MediResource (n.d.). Why teens and kids start smoking. Retrieved November 20, 2018 from: https://www.medbroadcast.com/channel/smoking/youth-and-smoking/why-teens-and-kids-start-smoking
Mental Illness & Smoking [PDF]. (n.d.). CAMH. https://www.nicotinedependenceclinic.com/English/teach/SiteAssets/Pages/Smoking-Fact-Sheets2/Mental%20Illness%20and%20Smoking%20Fact%20Sheet%20for%20Healthcare%20Providers.pdf
Roberts, M. E., Fuemmeler, B. F., Mcclernon, F. J., & Beckham, J. C. (2008). Association Between Trauma Exposure and Smoking in a Population-Based Sample of Young Adults. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42(3), 266-274. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.02910 Statistics Canada (2015). Health at a Glance. Retrieved November 19, 2018 from: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/11676-eng.htm
Tasker, J. (2018). ‘Troubling signs’: Health Canada to review tobacco strategy as smoking rate spikes. CBC. Retrieved November 20, 2018 from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tasker-health-canada-smoking-troubling-signs-1.4909402
The American Cancer Society (2015). Why People Start Smoking and Why It’s Hard to Stop. Retrieved November 20, 2018 from: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/why-people-start-using-tobacco.html
Weir, K. (2013). Smoking and mental illness. American Psychological Association. Retrieved November 19, 2018 from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/06/smoking.aspx