A partnership between MD Anderson and anti-tobacco programs led by the University of Houston and Austin Travis County Integral Care (ATCIC) is currently underway to extend cancer prevention efforts. As part of the effort, researchers are focused on educating mental health providers to help tobacco users eliminate their addiction within mental health facilities.
There are 19 Local Mental Health Authorities (LMHAs) with several clinics throughout Texas that are scheduled to become tobacco-free within two years. The Taking Texas Tobacco Free project, which was modeled after ATCIC’s ownTobacco-Free Workplace Program, is the lead program being used to ensure that clinics are compliant. The program is funded by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas and, beginning with the launch of the first program in Waco, Texas which began on September 1st, the effort is expected to impact more than 250,000 Texans, including more than 74,000 tobacco users. Other LMHAs are currently setting dates and goals to implement the project in their centers in order to better educate and treat tobacco-using patients and clients.
Patients who suffer from mental illness have smoking rates that are two to four times higher than the general population, explained Cho Lam, Ph.D., project director and assistant professor of Health Disparities Research at MD Anderson.
“Although this group has a higher cancer mortality rate than the general population of smokers, their smoking status is rarely assessed and smoking-cessation initiatives and interventions are seldom incorporated into their treatment plan,” explained Dr. Lam.
The program aims to provide assistance to LMHA leadership and staff in order to implement tobacco-free policies on their campuses, educate employees about the danger of smoking to both patients with mental illness and the general public, increase assessment of tobacco/nicotine usage among patients, and increase smoking-cessation interventions and nicotine replacement therapies.
Lorraine Reitzel, Ph.D., co-director of the project and associate professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Houston, explained, “This program will educate and train clinic staff on the health hazards of tobacco use and the use of cessation interventions (…) We will also provide consultation, policy assistance and treatment resources to help clinic staff and the individuals they serve.”
According to Dr. Reitzel, most tobacco users want to quit, but in the case of patients with mental illness, it is more difficult to achieve abstinence due to a lack of resources to help them quit. One in five people in the United States suffer from mental illness, and smoking is the leading risk factor related to mortality among these patients. Dr. Lam believes that this project will increase tobacco-cessation rates and reduce prevalence of cancer among them.
Bill Wilson, Ph.D., collaborator on the project and director of Prevention Services at ATCIC, believes that this project is an important opportunity to help a vulnerable population among Texas. “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.”