Smoking Increases Suicide Risk In Men
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Smoking Increases Suicide Risk In Men

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This post was originally published on October 28, 2014.

It’s a Bad Man’s World

Psychiatric News recently reported on a study proving that chronic smoking could be a main contributor to suicide in men. The study came from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada and was led by Lloyd Balbuena M.S., Ph.D. According to Balbuena’s study, smoking may be added to the list of many factors—such as (the obvious rock star of the group) depression as well as alcoholism, owning a firearm or living alone—that lead to suicide. (I’m three out of five so far.) By comparing the number of suicide victims against the number of accidental deaths and homicides, lo and behold he discovered that lifetime smoking was associated with increased odds of suicide, while quitting smoking was associated with lower odds. (The Canadian researchers used data from the 1993 US National Mortality Survey; get your own, Canada.) They also found that their results were only seen in males (#yesallwomen).

Marlboro Men

The study stressed that the issues were with chronic smoking as opposed to “stints” of it: the suicides were elite gold-status members of Big Tobacco, having been loyal soldiers for decades. These guys were less likely to have quit smoking at any time and if they did quit, it wasn’t for long. As a pack-a-day honorary Philip Morris executive, I gotta say I relate. I’m a recovering alcoholic with a cigarette “issue” and Italian gun company Beretta in my Safari history list. I don’t believe this makes me a suicide risk but I do believe that this, along with depression, makes my chances much higher than others.

Balbuena’s study also found that the association between chronic smoking and suicide remained after controlling for the other risk factors (owning a firearm, living alone, alcoholism and, of course, depression), in turn showing that smoking could be an independent risk factor. Welcome to the big leagues, tobacco (depression gives tobacco a high five and the firearm goes off into the air).

AA: Acceptable Addiction

While discussing the study, Balbuena reinforced the idea that smoking is self-medication and not just something to do while looking handsome and leaning against a wall. I’d add that it’s not only highly addictive but also still highly acceptable; smoking is only recently being pushed out of modern subcultures but has a long way to go before it’s as tarnished as say, heroin or Kevin Spacey playing a straight man. Where I live in LA, there are eight cities where smoking is banned in public places. TheTruth.com tired to deter my generation with silent protests and “out of the box” commercials; of course, anti-smoking progress is being made as organic foods and economical driving replace luxury and excess. In other words, the pendulum has swung, with “gluten-free” becoming a household term, Lululemon stock available on the NYSE and chain-smoking more a smoke signal that there’s an AA meeting nearby, rather than what would happen on a sidewalk in Any City, CA. But there are always going to be people able to ignore all of that.

It’s not news, of course, that cigarettes are in the death business, especially for we chain smokers. In 2012, 40,600 suicides were reported in the United States (population: 316 million). White males soar over any other group of people when it comes to suicide and the location is generally out in the Mountain Time Zone and the rest in the Pacific (Wyoming at number one followed by Alaska, Montana, Utah and Colorado). Firearms make up for 50% of the methods.

Women, meanwhile, have the highest rates of non-fatal suicide attempts or “cries for help” (for lack of a better term) while men complete their sad fate.

Now look. I don’t believe that the chemicals put in Philip Morris tobacco products make men suicidal but I do think that chronic smokers have more liberal ideas of what can be done to their bodies so if they’re leaning towards suicide, then that liberal way of thinking may make them more prone to go through with it. I started with Skoal chewing tobacco in high school and after a couple of years of bleeding gums, graduated to the more sophisticated cigarette. I’m currently logging a pack a day. It’s not a great day when you agree with an article that puts you as suicide risk but there it is: reason 8382 why I should quit smoking.

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About Author

Carlos Herrera is a comedian, photographer and writer whose work can also be found on The Fix . He has been featured in LA Weekly and has performed at The Hollywood Improv among other places.