NIH to Spend $3.5 Million to Help Schizophrenics Stop Smoking

May 29, 2014 - 3:01 PM

(AP photo)

( - The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to spend $3.5 million to study smoking cessation interventions for people with schizophrenia.

The purpose of the grant is to "generate and conduct preliminary tests of targeted smoking cessation treatments for individuals with schizophrenia. Smokers with schizophrenia who have co-occurring alcohol and/or substance abuse disorders are also a population of interest."

Schizophrenia is described as "a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder" which affects about one percent of the population, according to the NIH. Symptoms of schizophrenia include: hallucinations and delusions.

"People with this disorder may hear voices other people don't hear. They may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. This can terrify people with the illness and make them withdrawn or extremely agitated," the NIH said.

"People with schizophrenia may not make sense when they talk. They may sit for hours without moving or talking. Sometimes people with schizophrenia seem perfectly fine until they talk about what they are really thinking," the NIH said.

Smoking prevalence among schizophrenics is about three times higher than that of the general population. In addition, smoking cessation rates are estimated to be 50 percent lower, the grant solicatation said.

People with schizophrenia also suffer "significant morbidiy and early mortality" and have "a reduced life expectancy by about 15-25 years compared with the general population,'"  the grant said. "This premature mortality is largely attributable to smoking-related diseases."

"In fact, a recent cohort study found that tobacco-related conditions comprised an estimated 53% of total deaths among individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia," it said.

"High rates of co-occuring alcohol and other substance use disorders in schizophrenic populations also contribute to excess morbidity and mortality, and are associated with poorer long-term clinical outcomes," it added.

"Unfortunately, most smoking cessation clinical trials exclude individuals with schizophrenia as well as those with alcohol and other substance use disorders," the grant solicitation said.

"Therefore, in the absence of a critical mass of research, the latest version of the PHS Clinical Practice Guidelines for Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence, recommends that interventions identified as effective for the general population, be applied to this population," it said.

"However, it is not clear whether treatments that have been shown to aid other groups to quit smoking are also effective for individuals with schizophrenia," the grant said.

"Various combinations of behavior therapy and pharmacotherapy have been shown to be effective" in smoking cessation; however, relapse rates among schizophrenics is high, the grant said.

"Existing cessation interventions do not approximate the rates produced by the same interventions in the general population; perhaps due to cognitive or sensory deficits, lower task persistence, lower motivation to quit, fewer cessation attempts, increased level of nicotine dependence, and reduced access to treatment," it said. contacted the NIH and asked: "Is this the first time the NIH has issued a grant such as this to help schizophrenics stop smoking? Does the NIH have other smoking cessation programs aimed at people who suffer from a particular mental illness? And why is this an effective use of taxpayer funding?"

"NIH research addresses the full spectrum of human health across all populations of Americans," the NIH said in an emailed response.

"Research into unhealthy human behaviors that are estimated to be the proximal cause of more than half of the disease burden in the U.S. will continue to be an important area of research supported by NIH. 

"Only by developing effective prevention and treatment strategies for health-injuring behaviors can we reduce the disease burden in the U.S. and thus, enhance health and lengthen life, which is the mission of the NIH," it added.

The grant was announced on May 19, 2014. The closing date for applications is April 17, 2017.