No Smoking In Long-Stay Mental Health Units, Say Experts

Mental health units should not be spared from smoking bans, public health experts have claimed. Dr Jonathan Campion of Queen Mary’s Hospital, London, UK and colleagues argue that exempting mental health units from the general ban on smoking in public places would worsen patients’ problems. Writing in the British Medical Journal, they state that health inequalities would be exacerbated as many mental health patients are heavy smokers, so are at high risk of illness and mortality.

“Nicotine dependence fulfils the core criteria for mental disorder. It is therefore the most prevalent and deadly of all psychiatric disorders,” they write.

The possibility of an exemption was put forward because mental health settings are the patients’ long-term place of residence, and it is suggested that banning smoking may infringe human rights.

But the Human Rights Act 1998 restricts personal choices which may endanger others, so it does not apply in this case. Furthermore, NHS health and safety regulations demand that staff are protected from tobacco smoke.

The authors point out that Parliament’s Health Select Committee does not support the exemption. “We strongly endorse this proposal and suggest that all mental health settings should introduce complete smoke-free policies,” they write.

“These policies should be introduced in a flexible and pragmatic way, with support and treatment available for patients to stop smoking and manage withdrawal,” they conclude.