MD Anderson teams up to implement tobacco-free policies in mental health clinics

New statewide tobacco-free program launches, targets a vulnerable population group

MD Anderson News Release 10/03/14

MD Anderson is extending its cancer prevention efforts by teaming up with anti-tobacco programs run by the University of Houston and Austin Travis County Integral Care (ATCIC). The partnership joins researchers focused on educating mental health providers and tobacco users to eliminate a dangerous addiction.

The Taking Texas Tobacco Free project, modeled after the ATCIC’s Tobacco-Free Workplace Program, has identified 19 Local Mental Health Authorities (LMHAs) with hundreds of clinics throughout Texas to become tobacco-free over the next two years. With the first LMHA implementing the tobacco-free program in Waco, Texas on September 1, the program is expected to reach more than 250,000 Texans and serve more than 74,000 tobacco users.

“Smoking rates for people suffering from mental illness are two to four times higher than the general population,” said Cho Lam, Ph.D., assistant professor of Health Disparities Research at MD Anderson and project director. “Although this group has a higher cancer mortality rate than the general population of smokers, their smoking status is rarely assessed and smoking-cessation interventions are seldom incorporated into their treatment plan.”

Funded by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the program will:

  • Provide assistance to LMHA leadership and staff to implement tobacco-free policies on their campuses
  • Educate employees about the dangers of smoking for both the general public and those suffering from mental illnesses
  • Improve and increase the assessment of smoking and other tobacco/nicotine use among mental health consumers, and
  • Increase the delivery of smoking-cessation interventions including nicotine replacement therapies to mental health consumers

“This program will educate and train clinic staff on the health hazards of tobacco use and the use of cessation interventions,” said Lorraine Reitzel, Ph.D., associate professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Houston and co-director of the project. “We will also provide consultation, policy assistance and treatment resources to help clinic staff and the individuals they serve.”

Reitzel says that most tobacco users want to stop; however, people suffering from mental illness may be less likely to achieve abstinence due to a lack of resources or access to health care interventions to help them quit.

“Smoking is the leading risk factor associated with increased mortality among this population,” said Lam. With one in five people in the U.S. suffering from mental illness, Lam believes putting resources toward community mental health campuses through the project will increase tobacco-cessation rates and ultimately reduce the prevalence of cancer.

“We have a unique opportunity to expand our program across Texas to help a vulnerable population group,” said Bill Wilson, Dr.PH, director of Prevention Services at ATCIC and collaborator on the project. “Ultimately, the policies and interventions implemented with this program will reduce the prevalence of tobacco use and therefore, smoking related conditions, including many types of cancers, and aid in the improved health care of Texans.”

Other LMHAs throughout Texas have already set dates to implement the Taking Texas Tobacco Free program in their centers with clear goals to educate, provide screening services and offer treatment interventions to clinic employees, consumers and surrounding communities.