Hazy minds: Study finds cigarettes ‘closely linked’ to depression

JERUSALEM — Individuals suffering from depression often describe their symptoms as a “haze” of sorts, in which they can’t see themselves or their lives clearly, and are unable to focus on any one task for too long. Now, a new study finds that literal smoke, more specifically cigarette smoke, can actually promote mental health problems among smokers.

Cigarettes are not a healthy habit, that much is undeniable. Smokers put themselves at a greater risk of lung cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure, as well as a variety of additional physical health problems. Most warnings around cigarettes focus on the harm they cause to the lungs and other organs. However, this new set of research conducted at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem shows that cigarettes are “closely linked” to depression, according to the author.

A total of 2,000 students enrolled in Serbian universities were surveyed for the study, all hailing from a variety of different socio-political and economic environments. The surveys revealed that participating students who were regular smokers showed two to three times higher rates of clinical depression than other students who weren’t smokers.

Among students at the University of Pristina in Kosovo, 14% of smokers suffered from depression, compared to only 4% of non-smokers. Similarly, 19% of surveyed students who reported smoking regularly at Belgrade University in Serbia were classified as depressed, while 11% of non-smoking students showed clear signs of depression.

Furthermore, each student’s economic and socio-political background did not seem to have an impact on the effect of smoking on their mental health. Across the board students who smoked had higher rates of depressive symptoms and poorer mental health scores than their non-smoking counterparts.

“Our study adds to the growing body of evidence that smoking and depression are closely linked,” comments study author Professor Hagai Levine in a release. “While it may be too early to say that smoking causes depression, tobacco does appear to have an adverse effect on our mental health.”

Coincidentally, the release of these findings just happen to coincide with the adoption of harsher cigarette laws in Israel, including a nationwide ban on storefront displays advertising tobacco products. Additionally, all tobacco and e-cigarette products in Israel now must be sold in nondescript packaging devoid of any unique brand logos.

Still, the study’s authors would like to see Israeli universities, and many other learning institutions all over the world, take the mental health risks of cigarettes into account when constructing new tobacco policies moving forward.

“I urge universities to advocate for their students’ health by creating ‘Smoke-Free Campuses’ that not only ban smoking on campus but tobacco advertising, too,” Professor Levine concludes.

The study is published in PLOS ONE.