Strengthening psychology’s role in reducing tobacco health disparities

Smoking and tobacco use are the most common preventable causes of death in the United States and they severely impact health priority populations.

On Dec. 10-11, 2012, APA’s Health Disparities Initiative held a meeting in Washington, D.C. entitled, “Strengthening Psychology’s Role in Reducing Tobacco Health Disparities.” Smoking and tobacco use are the most common preventable causes of death in the United States and they severely impact health priority populations, such as racial/ethnic minorities, low-income and rural populations. Approximately 80 invited attendees spent the two days listening to a number of informative presentations from speakers in government, academia, and professional and community organizations, and offered their own recommendations on how APA and psychologists can reduce the rates of smoking and tobacco use in underserved, vulnerable populations. 

Keynote speaker Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), offered an epidemiological overview of this public health issue. He noted, for example, that tobacco use was higher in persons from rural areas, with low incomes, who self-identified as mixed race, and being treated for mental illness than in the population as a whole. A striking finding of particular concern to psychology was that adults with schizophrenia are estimated to smoke at a rate of 59.1 percent, and those with bipolar disorder at 46.4 percent, compared to 20.6 percent in the adult population as a whole. In a second keynote address from Dr. Felipe González Castro, of the University of Texas at El Paso, participants heard about evidence-based interventions, and the need for prevention and cessation programs that reflect the cultural diversity in our country. As Dr. Castro noted, “One size does not fit all.”

Throughout the meeting, participants and speakers offered their recommendations on best practices for reducing tobacco health disparities in priority populations, and ideas for improving dissemination of those best practices. These recommendations will be compiled and used to create a dissemination action plan for APA, so that more can be done by psychologists to reduce the rates of smoking and tobacco use, and ultimately the rate of tobacco-related deaths, in health disparities populations.