For years, scientists have known that people who smoke face a higher risk of suicide and assumed that this tendency was related to psychological disorders many smokers suffer .
However a new study by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests a link between suicide rates and cigarette taxes and smoking policies.
Published online on July 16 in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, Richard A. Grucza, Ph.D. and his team argue that suicide rates declined up to 15 percent in states that have higher taxes on cigarette sales and stricter policies on smoking in public places.
“Our analysis showed that each dollar increase in cigarette taxes was associated with a 10 percent decrease in suicide risk,” said Grucza, an associate professor of psychiatry. “Indoor smoking bans also were associated with risk reductions.”
Grucza’s team analyzed data compiled from states that took different approaches to taxing cigarette sales and restricting public places where people could smoke from 1990 to 2004. The data showed states that adopted more aggressive anti-tobacco policies saw their suicide rates decrease, while states with lower cigarette taxes and less restrictive tobacco policies saw their suicides rates increase by 6 percent, compared to the national average. During 1990 to 2004, the average annual suicide rate was about 14 deaths for every 100,000 people.
“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.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death nationwide. In the U.S. nearly 40,000 people died of suicide during 2010 alone.
Grucza says nicotine may be an important influence on suicide risk. “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.”
Grucza also raised concerns about e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine through vapor rather than smoke and does not fall under public smoking restrictions. He predicts that if states with low cigarette taxes increase them and restrict smoking in public, their suicide rates would decrease.