Nearly everyone knows cigarettes can kill, but startling new research is also finding that smokers may actually be more likely to take their own life.
A new paper, published online in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco, finds state public health interventions, such as cigarette excise taxes and indoor smoking bans, could also reduce rates of suicide by as much as 15 percent.
According to the report, smokers have 2 to 4 times higher risk for suicide than non-smokers. Studies suggest that people who smoke are more likely to have psychiatric disorders or abuse other substances such as drugs or alcohol. Some research even argues that smoking changes neural pathways related to the pleasure centers of the brain that are activated as a result of addiction, which can severely impact mental health.
"It is an open question whether smoking is a direct risk factor for poor mental health outcomes, and by extension, suicide," the researchers write in their study. "If so, this would have significant implications for public health and clinical practice because it would establish smoking as a common and modifiable risk factor for suicide. In this case, more effective tobacco control policies and other smoking interventions could be promising means for suicide risk mitigation."
The study, led by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics, representing all 50 states. The researchers concluded that each dollar increase in cigarette taxes could reduce suicide risk by as much as 10 percent. From 1990 to 2004 those states that adopted strict tobacco control policies saw a decrease in suicide rates as well. In that same time period, states with lower excise taxes on cigarettes and fewer laws on smoking in public spaces saw a 6 percent increase in suicide.
"Nicotine is a plausible candidate for explaining the link between smoking and suicide risk," said Richard Grucza, PhD, lead author of the paper, in a statement. "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."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Rates have risen sharply in the last decade. In 2010 there were 38,364 suicides, which averages out to 105 each day.
On the other hand, fewer people are smoking today than ever before. Currently, an estimated 42.1 million people in the U.S. smoke regularly, about 18 percent of the general population. In 1965, 42 percent of the adult U.S. population regularly smoked cigarettes.