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Vitale: Smoking Cessation Programs Are Key To Banning Smoking At State Psychiatric Facilities

WOODBRIDGE – Senator Joseph F. Vitale today voiced his support for the 31st annual Great American Smokeout, and spoke about key legislation that he will soon introduce to call upon the State Department of Human Services (DHS) to develop a smoking cessation pilot program, with the eventual goal of banning smoking at all five of New Jersey’s State-run psychiatric hospitals.

“Smoking kills, and when it comes to patients in psychiatric facilities, the fatality rates are disproportionately higher,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, who chairs the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens committee. “According to DHS statistics, the lifespan of a severely mentally ill person is 20-25 years shorter than that of a non-mentally ill person. Research has shown that death rates are higher for mentally ill smokers because of the way nicotine interacts with many psychotropic drugs. They also note that too often, nicotine can counteract the effects of these drugs, causing patients to require higher dosages to control their illness. The increased dosages also lead to the increase of the drugs’ side effects, like obesity which is known to cause diabetes and heart disease. It is imperative that patients and employees at these facilities stop smoking, but it would be almost impossible for the patients to quit cold turkey.”

Started in 1976, the Great American Smokeout was designed by the American Cancer Society as an event to encourage cigarette smokers to quit for at least one day, in hopes that they would go on to quit permanently.

Senator Vitale’s legislation would require DHS to develop a pilot program creating smoking cessation guidelines for employees and patients at State-run psychiatric facilities. According to a National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors’ report, 40% of State hospitals across the country have banned smoking on campus, and many hospitals throughout the state are taking steps to reduce smoking on their grounds. This legislation would help ensure that of the State-operated facilities adopt the cessation programs, and later adopt the smoking ban.

“My legislation will mark an important policy shift for psychiatric facilities and help them fall in line with the best practices of other States across the country, that are using the banning of smoking as a means to better the health of patients and staff. Maine recently enacted legislation to permit psychiatric hospitals to ban smoking and Maryland has

similar legislation pending,” said Senator Vitale. “The creation of smoking cessation programs with the eventual goal of a smoking ban in State-run developmental centers and in privately owned centers would be developed over time.”