Tackling tobacco use among people living with mental illness

Cancer Council NSW
Neami National is a community-based organisation working to improve mental health and wellbeing in local communities.
Tackling Tobacco assists Neami National in helping people with mental illness to quit smoking.

Although less and less Australians smoke tobacco each year, cigarettes continue to disproportionately impact some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Australians living with mental illness are twice as likely to smoke cigarettes than the general population, and that rate increases dramatically among people with schizophrenia.

In addition to the health impacts and increased cancer risk, smoking can also lead to financial stress, contribute to cycles of poverty, and make it more difficult to treat existing mental health issues among these groups.

Our Tackling Tobacco program aims to address this by empowering and building the capacity of community service organisations who work directly with priority populations.

Domareen Shimul works in Neami National’s South Western Sydney branch (Liverpool), and is one of the program’s champions. Neami is a community-based organisation working to improve mental health and wellbeing in local communities.

For Domareen, the Tackling Tobacco Program has been a welcome way to make a difference in the lives of the people she works with.

Through Tackling Tobacco, Domareen has established a steering committee consisting of staff and volunteers that have been trained to deliver this program, Neami data collection systems have been updated to capture outcomes and impacts and a partnership has been formed with a local pharmacy to provide consumers with access to free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), funded through the program.

“As an immigrant and a former refugee, helping people is my passion,” she said.

”All of the people we support have a mental health diagnosis, and the majority are smokers.”

Everyone at Cancer Council has been so helpful – the support is amazing. I’m passionate about what I’ve done and what we can continue to achieve with Tackling Tobacco.

– Domareen Shimul

Tackling Tobacco provides community service organisations like Neami with training for staff and some funding, enabling them to build supportive systems including smoke-free signage, updating smoking policies and providing consumers with free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) including patches, gum, mouth spray and lozenges.

“When new people come on board with Neami, we support them to complete a physical health prompt. One of the questions asked is, ‘are you a non- smoker?’. If the answer is ‘yes’, then we ask them to refrain from smoking around the office and during their support sessions,” she said.

“And from that, comes a conversation about smoking, and if they’re interested in reducing or quitting.”

Although there is a common misconception that people with mental health issues aren’t willing to quit, Domareen said there was evidence to suggest that this wasn’t the case.

“People often won’t pay for smoking cessation products or go out of their way to find resources. However, the minute you offer it, they’re receptive,” she said.

“I think it’s mostly a financial thing. When I told one person about available products, her face lit up. She couldn’t believe she wasn’t going to have to pay for products to help her quit.

“She wasn’t going to spend money out of her own pocket to purchase NRT, but now she hasn’t smoked again since.

“Everyone at Cancer Council has been so helpful – the support is amazing. I’m passionate about what I’ve done and what we can continue to achieve with Tackling Tobacco.”

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