The ban applied to 80 inpatient addiction treatment programs, including nine detox facilities, 32 short-term and 31 long-term rehabilitation programs, and eight halfway houses.
In January 2019, Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS) implemented a tobacco-free policy, which included vaping, in drug rehab facilities. When the measure was announced, DBHIDS Commissioner David Jones cited National Institutes of Health research indicating that individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) were less likely to relapse if they also quit smoking.

Naturally, real life data was indicating quite the opposite. A study of 112 people with substance use disorder (SUD) in the US city of Philadelphia, found that the vast majority of those who left rehab facilities prematurely did so because they were unable to smoke during treatment. “Huge step backwards for recovery, it sucks!” said one of the study participants.

The Harm Caused By Banning Smoking During Drug Treatment

Study author Dr. Casey Bohrman, a researcher at West Chester University, said that approximately of 56% of people with SUD are smokers. “Of those who left treatment prematurely, 85% said not being able to smoke was part of their reason.”

Moreover, 46% of the participants reported that the smoking ban was impacting their decision about whether or not to seek addiction treatment. “If I cannot smoke, I’m afraid I will leave AMA,” “Bad enough you have to stop fentanyl, then they want you to stop cigarettes,” and “The stress of quitting something else is holding me back,” were some of the comments by the participants.

Bohrman said that based on these findings, the measure should be put on hold. “While this study is exploratory, it indicates that the smoking ban is serving as a barrier to accessing and completing treatment for some people with substance use disorders … Given that we are in the midst of an overdose crisis, any barrier to accessing treatment is of concern. Based on the study findings, I would suggest pausing the policy until further research can be completed.”

Supporting these findings, an article on WHYY, relayed the story of Brad Wienczkowski. A 26 year old who did not want to leave treatment. He had just finished detox, and he still felt sick from withdrawal symptoms. He did not feel ready to be on his own yet, but he was caught smoking and therefore discharged.

“I was worried I was gonna use if I left,” he said. “And that’s exactly what happened.” After the dismissal, Wienczkowsk overdosed and woke up in hospital. He sought treatment again at a different facility where he was able to smoke. This time, he completed the program.

Ban lifted

Thankfully, the ban which applied to 80 inpatient addiction treatment programs, including nine detox facilities, 32 short-term and 31 long-term rehabilitation programs, and eight halfway houses, has been lifted.

An article on Filter highlighted that after years of defending its policy by saying it is evidence-based, the DBHIDS did not offer an explanation. Instead, its commissioner, Dr. Jill Bowen said in an interview, “I don’t think it was ever intended to be a ban.”

Filter pointed out that this is untrue as a December 2018 press release from the DBHIdS itself stated, “Philadelphia Bans Smoking at Drug Treatment Programs,” and the story was picked up by mainstream media. 

The Relationship Between Smoking And Mental Well-Being

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