The consequences of tobacco use and dependence for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities can be especially severe, says an extensive review of previously reported studies.
"This is too important an issue to ignore," said Dr. Marc L. Steinberg, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and the article's lead author of the review published in the journal Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
"Health care professionals often do not ask these individuals about tobacco use or exposure," he added.
He and his colleagues have even identified several negative implications of tobacco use that are unique to this population group.
The researchers say that people with developmental or intellectual disabilities are three times more likely to live in poverty, which can in turn make them more susceptible to financial distress from tobacco use.
They further say that tobacco use may decrease the effectiveness of some medications commonly prescribed to this population group.
Ironically, say the research group, many of these individuals became addicted to tobacco at the hands of the very institutions that are meant to help them.
They point out that in the past, hospitals and facilities treating vulnerable populations have even given cigarettes as good behavior 'rewards' to mentally ill patients and to those with developmental or intellectual disabilities.
According to the researchers, on the rare occasions when individuals in this population gain access to tobacco treatment programs, they still may "fall through the cracks" because they have difficulty understanding the health information presented to them.
"Like any other patients, this population should be offered resources for quitting if they smoke and offered protection from environmental tobacco smoke if they do not," said Steinberg.