Is There a Link Between Smoking and Suicide?

By May Wilkerson 05/28/15

Though denying a direct correlation, researchers say the link demands a closer look.

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Add this to the list of reasons to quit: there may be a link between smoking and suicide risk, according to various studies.

A report back in February that examined smoking-related deaths noted that “a small proportion” of smokers’ deaths were due to suicide. But though the authors of the report dismissed a possible connection between the two, researchers Dr. Jitender Sareen, Karver Zaborniak, and Margaret Green from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg say the link demands a closer look.

Based on the data collected in that report, they found that female smokers were 4.4 times more likely to commit suicide than women who had never smoked. And male smokers were 3.2 times more likely to kill themselves than men with no history of smoking.

As the Canadian researchers point out, in a letter published this week in New England Journal of Medicine, the data shows that smoking actually could increase suicide risk by much more than other major causes of smoking-related death. For example, the report found that smokers were 2.2 to 2.5 times more likely than nonsmokers to die of infections, around twice as likely to die of kidney failure, and 30% more likely to die from breast cancer.

Of the 11 fatal smoking-related conditions mentioned in the report, the only one with a higher risk ratio for both genders was ischemic disorders of the intestines. Cirrhosis of the liver had a higher risk ratio for men.

The February report was not the first study to link smoking and suicide. In 2012, a meta-analysis of 15 different studies found that current smokers were 81% more likely to kill themselves than people who had never smoked.

Sareen, Zaborniak, and Green also point out that a growing number of studies have suggested that nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes, may actually alter brain chemistry, leading to depression and suicidal ideations.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.