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Monday, November 9, 2009 - 3:12am

Georgia Mental Hospitals to Ban Smoking

Patients in the state’s mental hospitals have until the first week of January to drop the smoking habit. The ban on smoking goes into effect January 5th at Georgia’s seven mental hospitals. The ban also applies to staff.

Tom Wilson, spokesman for Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, says some of the hospitals have already been in varying stages of smoking bans. But he says officials decided a uniform smoking ban should be adopted for the system as a whole.

Wilson cites studies by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, or NASMHPD, showing people with serious mental illness die 25 years younger than the general public.

He says it's due in part, to smoking.

With national statistics that show 75 percent of people suffering from mental illness smoke, Wilson admits easing the patient population off of a typical coping mechanism like tobacco "will be a challenge" initially. But he says the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term challenge.

"There are other coping mechanisms, and our job is to help people with mental illness and substance abuse learn coping mechanisms that are healthy for them. That's what treatment is all about."

Jose Delgado, a psychiatrist with the Center Point Adult Mental Health Clinic in Milledgeville, concurs. He says the smoking ban "will be (a challenge) but it's necessary" for patients' overall health down the road.

State health officials say programs will be in-place to help patients make the transition under the no-smoking ban. They include evaluations of individual patients as to their need for tobacco, counseling services, and smoking cessation aids.