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Smoking and mental illness: Meet the doctor helping patients quit

When Dr. Steven Schroeder founded the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center in 2003, he knew smoking rates were high among people with mental illness and substance use disorders.

“I called around to some of the experts and said, ‘Why aren’t you working with this population?’ They told me it was a lost cause,” said Schroeder, a founding board member of Truth Initiative®. “It bothered me that we were basically giving up on this population.”

He and his organization set out to enlist more organizations serving people with mental illness to help them quit. He emphasized three points: tobacco use is the “number one killer of your clients,” secondhand smoke puts clinicians and their families at risk and “the tide is going against smoking.”

“Smoking rates are going down all over the country, and you’re going to be lost if you don’t join us,” he said.

While smoking rates are going down, “the tragedy is we still have 540,000 deaths a year from smoking and yet it’s invisible to many people,” Schroeder said. “That’s what we’re trying to work on.”

We talked with Schroeder about why smoking among those with mental illness is a social justice issue that needs attention.