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Less Suicides With More Cigarette Taxes

Jul 19, 2014 07:07 PM EDT

Researchers seem to have found a link between strict cigarette policies and lower suicide rates in a new study.

Multiple past studies have found that the general population of smokers are far more likely to commit suicide than non-smokers. However, experts have long attributed this rise in suicide rate with the fact that mentally troubled people are also very likely to take up smoking - if in some ways to calm their troubled minds.

 Now, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine are arguing that smoking itself is actually doing the very opposite, with higher suicide rates in regions where cigarettes have less restrictions and are more affordable.

"Our analysis showed that each dollar increase in cigarette taxes was associated with a 10 percent decrease in suicide risk," lead researcher Richard A. Grucza explained in a statement. "Indoor smoking bans also were associated with risk reductions."

Grucza and his team analyzed data for individual US states between 1990 and 2004. Comparing suicide rates to tobacco policies, the researchers found that rates decreased up to 15 percent in states that implemented stricter smoking policies and heavier tobacco taxes. In states that became more lax about tobacco control, suicide rates saw an up-to 6 percent rise in those same 14 years.

According to the researchers, it was difficult for them to conclusively  prove a link between smoking and suicide, but Grucza says the implications are there. Using collected data, the team found that more people who committed suicide in lax states were likely smokers, compared to states with stricter policies.

"If you're not a smoker, or not likely ever to become a smoker, then your suicide risk shouldn't be influenced by tobacco policies," Grucza said. "So the fact that we saw this influence among people who likely were smokers provides additional support for our idea that smoking itself is linked to suicide, rather than some other factor related to policy."

Still, it's important to note that states that more heavily tax tobacco may simply be putting some of that tax money into suicide prevention programs - a factor not considered in the study.

The study was published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research on July 16.

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