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Tobacco Bans Cut Suicide Rates, US Study

Update Date: Jul 16, 2014 09:20 PM EDT

Smoking increases a person's risk of committing suicide.

While previous studies have attributed this increase in suicide risk to mental health sufferers, who are more likely to smoke, new research reveals that smoking itself may also increase the risk of suicide.

New research reveals that suicide rates declines by up to 15 percent in states that enforced higher taxes on tobacco and stricter policies to limit smoking in public spaces.

"Our analysis showed that each dollar increase in cigarette taxes was associated with a 10 percent decrease in suicide risk," lead researcher. Richard A. Grucza, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry, said in a news release. "Indoor smoking bans also were associated with risk reductions."

The latest study also revealed that suicide increased in states with lower cigarette taxes and more lax policies toward smoking in public. States that were more lax on tobacco rules actually experienced a 6 percent increase in suicide rates.

"States started raising their cigarette taxes, first as a way to raise revenue but then also as a way to improve public health," Grucza explained. "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."

While it is generally assumed that people with psychiatric disorders are more likely to smoke, and commit suicide. Researchers said the latest study suggests that smoking might also increase the risk or severity of mental disorders, which can in turn increase the risk of suicide.

"We really need to look more closely at the effects of smoking and nicotine, not only on physical health but on mental health, too," Grucza said. "We don't know exactly how smoking influences suicide risk. It could be that it affects depression or increases addiction to other substances. We don't know how smoking exerts these effects, but the numbers show it clearly does something."

"Nicotine is a plausible candidate for explaining the link between smoking and suicide risk," 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," he concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research

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