Decline in smoking in the United States has slowed over the past 25 years. Mental health problems are common among smokers, and may be an impediment to quitting and remaining abstinent. The study investigated the relationship between serious (past-30-day) psychological distress (SPD) and smoking, estimated trends in the prevalence of SPD among current, former, and never smokers in the United States from 2008 to 2014, and investigated whether heterogeneity in these trends varied by sociodemographic characteristics. Data were drawn from the National Household Survey on Drug Use (NSDUH), an annual cross-sectional study of persons ages 12 and over (N = 270 227). SPD and smoking in the past 30 days were examined using logistic regression models among adults 18 and older. The prevalence of SPD was examined annually among current, former, and never smokers from 2008 to 2014. SPD increased among smokers in the United States from 2008 to 2014. An increase in SPD was more rapid among non-daily smokers than daily smokers. The prevalence of SPD was higher among younger smokers, those with less formal education and lower annual family income and higher among current smokers than former and never smokers. The relationships between SPD and smoking were stronger among smokers with higher education levels and annual family income.
Our findings suggest an increase in SPD among smokers over time and that as smoking has declined, those with SPD are comprising a greater proportion of the remaining smokers. Results suggest that mental health must be integrated into mainstream tobacco control efforts. The greater prevalence and increasing rate of Serious Psychological Distress among smokers, relative to former- and never-smokers, from 2008 to 2014 provides support that the greater mental health burden among smokers may be contributing to the slowed reduction in smoking prevalence in the United States. In addition, relationships between SPD and smoking were consistently stronger among smokers with higher levels of education and annual family income. Such results suggest the necessity of incorporating mental health treatments in tobacco use reduction efforts.