We are all familiar with that scene from ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest ‘ where Charlie Cheswick, an enraged patient in a mental hospital, screams at the sadistically indifferent Nurse Ratched: ‘I want my cigarettes, I want my cigarettes, I want my cigarettes’. After a few moments, Jack Nicholson’s character, Randle P. McMurphy, breaks a window, grabs a carton of cigarettes and hands it to his craving comrade.

mentally ill and ecigsMore than 80% of patients suffering from schizophrenia smoke. In addition to this issue, individuals with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder also are among the biggest nicotine consumers. This is to show how addictive this drug is, but also to give an understanding on its power to chemically quell anxiety, depression and other upset. According to Helen Redmond of the Silver School of Social Work at the New York University, “the mentally ill remain the single largest demographic of smokers, accounting for 44-46% of cigarettes sold in the US.”

“Whenever he runs out of cigarettes, he becomes highly agitated to the point where he has seriously injured staff and other patients. Providing a cigarette is generally much more effective at decreasing agitation than most medications I can provide,” wrote Elizabeth Roberson, a former psychiatrist at Hawaii State Hospital.

More than 45% of the cigarettes sold in the United States are accounted for the mentally ill, but at the same time, they are also responsible for over half of the total 400,000 smoking-related deaths each year. This is why an ethical debate tormented healthcare providers for tens of years. On one hand, nicotine helps their patients cope with symptoms of mental illness and, on the other hand, smoking causes fatal illness.

This however could change with the introduction of the electronic cigarette. From all of the ex-smokers out there, the mentally ill could benefit the most from these tiny devices for a great number of reasons.

Due to the fact that patients suffering from mental illnesses are unable to make significant chances to their behavior, nicotine replacement options like patches or gum don’t seem to help at all. Instead, electronic cigarettes tend to mimic smoking to the last detail (if we’re talking about their cigarette-like shape and size and even the glowing LED tip) and this can provide them with the closest thing to their hazardous habit. If nothing else, they provide a new ritual rather than the absence of one.

As opposed to other cessation agents (like Chantix), electronic cigarette do not interfere with current medications. They only offer nicotine and flavored vapor that are harmless to them and to those in their vicinity.

A healthy body encourages a healthy mind and while ecigs will not provide a cure for mental illness, they might just make the symptoms tolerable due to the improved ability to breath, exercise, taste, and smell.

A study conducted by Dr. Riccardo Polosa and his colleagues from the University of Catania (Italy) comes to show how exactly e-cigarettes could help people suffering from schizophrenia. After giving ecigs to 14 patients for a whole year, half of them had gone from 30 cigarettes per day to only 15 per day while two individuals in the study reported complete abstinence from tobacco.

While much more research is needed to draw a widely accepted conclusion, this just goes to show how these electronic cigarettes might help the mentally ill to improve their way of life in hospitals where traditional tobacco cigarettes have been banned a long time ago.