Taking Cigarettes Out of Rehab

By Dirk Hanson 05/10/11

Is It cruel and unusual punishment to take cigarettes away from addicts in treatment?

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If you got ‘em, don’t smoke ‘em.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

When it’s time for treatment, here’s one big problem with the tobacco problem: By an amalgam of estimates, as many as 75% of all drug and alcohol addicts smoke cigarettes. Fifteen minutes spent in attendance at any standard A.A. or N.A. meeting in America is enough to clinch the argument. Smoke-free treatment centers are obviously doing the right thing, though, right? Sure, it’s tough on people who are kicking other addictions to kick nicotine at the same time, but isn’t that what treatment is all about? Still, with that 75% figure in mind, it’s easy to see that smoke-free treatment centers risk losing potential clients every day. A just-published study of the switch from smoking to smoke-free policies in an Ohio women’s treatment center showed just how true that is: Once the no-smoking policy was in place, the center’s “client-initiated departures” increased sharply over the following months. Treatment completions dropped by 50%. Put simply, people left earlier, on average, than before the tobacco ban. The researchers aren’t trying to discourage rehab centers from going smoke free. But, as Christopher Intagliata wrote in Scientific American, they do want the treatment community to understand that “even a well-meaning ban on tobacco may sometimes push away the very people who treatment centers are trying to help.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]

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