For the past 18 months our tobacco cessation and behavioral health teams have been working together in a way that is positioning Arizona as a national leader in closing the gap in life expectancy for people with a mental illness!

Consider these startling facts which confront Arizonans with a mental illness:

  1. Life expectancy is 30 years less than the population as a whole;
  2. While draining their financial resources, tobacco is the leading cause of death;
  3. An estimated 75% of people with a mental illness use tobacco, which is nearly five times the statewide tobacco prevalence;
  4. Tobacco use among behavioral health providers is estimated at 33% and presents a systemic barrier in reducing chronic disease rates that are double the statewide average; and
  5. Nearly 50% of tobacco products are purchased by people with a mental illness.

When confronted with these facts our teams went to work immediately to:

  1. Examine the traditional barriers to integrating clinical treatment and tobacco cessation;
  2. Present their findings to key stakeholders in both the tobacco control and behavioral health arenas;
  3. Apply for and received cessation grants; and
  4. Execute an effective intervention program which is now showing significant gains in an area that many state and local health departments have avoided for years.

We’ve been cultivating participation and ownership among our behavioral health service providers and Consumer Service Agencies to implement on-site interventions aimed at reducing the unnecessary health and cost burdens placed upon people, their families, and surrounding communities who are affected by mental illness.  These are low tech but labor intensive interventions that emphasize judicious use of nicotine replacement therapies and medications and intake/treatment protocols with seamless links to a clinically trained, state-of-the-art quitline (ASHLine), resulting in an unprecedented volume both referrals and enrollment in tobacco cessation services.

To date, 45% of callers to the ASHLine are enrolling in personal coaching services.  This exceeds the statewide average of 35% and is light years ahead of the rest of the nation.  Last week, SAMHSA recognized Arizona as one of five “Behavioral Health Leadership States” who are paving the way to reduce tobacco use and its tragic effects on the quantity and quality of life for people with a mental illness.