By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Mentally ill adults in the United States smoke cigarettes at a 70 percent higher rate than adults without any kind of mental illness, according to a report released by federal health agencies on Tuesday.
Statistics show smoking by the mentally ill is a "very serious health issue that needs more attention" and should prompt mental health facilities to ban the habit, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We need to do more to help smokers with mental illness quit," Frieden told reporters during a telephone briefing.
The CDC study found 36 percent of mentally ill adults smoke, compared with 21 percent of other adults. Those with mental illnesses also smoke more heavily, consuming an average of 331 cigarettes per month, compared with 310 for other smokers, the report found.
Tobacco can alter some aspects of mental illness, such as anxiety. But it can also lead to a long list of other health problems and should not be used as a form of self medication, Frieden said.
"There are very good treatments and very good counseling that, unlike cigarettes, don't take 10 years off your life," he said.
The study analyzed data from the 2009-2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which involved interviews with 138,000 adults at their homes.
The survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration did not include patients in mental hospitals or members of the U.S. military.
It defined a current smoker as someone who had smoked all or part of a cigarette in the prior 30 days, and defined mental illness as having a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder in the past 12 months.
Among the mentally ill, smoking rates were higher in younger, poor and less-educated adults, Frieden said. The study found regional differences in smoking habits among the mentally ill, with rates ranging from 18.2 percent in Utah to 48.7 percent in West Virginia.
The CDC urged mental health facilities to ban smoking both by patients and staff, Frieden said.
Cigarette smoking contributes to approximately 443,000 U.S. deaths each year and is the leading cause of preventable death, the CDC said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Cynthia Johnston and Dan Grebler)