Background: In many countries, smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death. In North America, reductions in population smoking levels are stabilising and, in recent years, those involved in tobacco control programming have turned their attention to particular segments of society that are at greatest risk for tobacco use. One such group is people with mental illness. A picture of tobacco use patterns among those with mental illness is beginning to emerge; however, there are several unanswered questions. In particular, most studies have been limited to particular in-patient groups. In addition, while it is recognised that men and women differ in relation to their reasons for smoking, levels of addiction to nicotine, and difficulties with cessation, these sex and gender differences have not been fully explored in psychiatric populations.
Methods: Community residents with serious mental illness were surveyed to describe their patterns of tobacco use and to develop a gender-specific profile of their smoking status and its predictors.
Results: Of 729 respondents, almost one half (46.8%) were current tobacco users with high nicotine dependence levels. They spent a majority of their income on tobacco, and reported using smoking to cope with their psychiatric symptoms. Current smokers, compared with non-smokers, were more likely to be: diagnosed with a schizophrenia spectrum disorder (rather than a mood disorder); male; relatively young; not a member of a racialised group (e.g., Aboriginal, Asian, South Asian, Black); poorly educated; separated or divorced; housed in a residential facility, shelter, or on the street; receiving social assistance; and reporting co-morbid substance use. There is evidence of a gender interaction with these factors; in the gender-specific multivariate logistic regression models, schizophrenia spectrum disorder versus mood disorder was not predictive of women's smoking, nor was education, marital status or cocaine use. Women, and not men, however, were more likely to be smokers if they were young and living in a residential facility.
Conclusion: For men only, the presence of schizophrenia spectrum disorder is a risk factor for tobacco use. Other factors, of a social nature, contribute to the risk of smoking for both men and women with serious mental illness. The findings suggest that important social determinants of smoking are "gendered" in this population, thus tobacco control and smoking cessation programming should be gender sensitive.