Smoking is a serious health risk associated with intimate partner violence (IPV), according to a new study conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Other health risks caused by IPV include post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and sexually transmitted diseases, the study notes.

Investigators with the research, which appeared online in the journal Global Public Health, analyzed data from the demographic and health surveys of 29 low-income and middle-income countries to examine the association between IPV and smoking. Approximately 231,892 women aged 15-29 were included in the data collection.

According to researches, IPV is a serious problem in low- and middle-income countries. Reports of IPV in these areas ranged from 9% to 63%. Employing a meta-analysis of country-level data that accounted for confounding factors, such as age, education, and household wealth, the study found a 58% increased risk for smoking among women who experienced IPV.

What’s more, researchers with the study found women are thought to smoke tobacco to self-medicate in an effort to cope with stress from IPV. However, many of these women may be unaware of the serious health risks associated with smoking – tobacco kills half of its users, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“A recent WHO report on IPV recommended that there is a clear need to scale-up efforts to both prevent IPV from happening in the first place and to provide necessary services for women experiencing IPV,” says senior author Peter A. Muennig, MD, MPH, associate professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The study points to a specific need for investments to help IPV victims avoid tobacco, adds first author Rishi Caleyachetty, MBBS, PhD, an epidemiologist on a Fulbright Scholarship at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Information about the consequences of smoking, motivation to quit smoking, and smoking-cessation treatments could be incorporated into IPV treatment by healthcare providers who routinely interact with IPV victims,” he says.

Intervention to lower smoking would likely improve overall health for affected women, the study suggests. A 2013 report by the WHO has linked IPV and chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease.

The recent study focuses on low- and middle-income countries, where little research into the IPV-tobacco link has been done. However, researchers with the project say their results likely mean that the phenomenon is a global one. What’s more, they cite among other papers, a 2008 study by Hee-Jin Jun et al that showed increased risk in American women.

According to the research findings, IPV and smoking may have both been underreported in the current study, which could mean that the association between the two is stronger. A temporal relationship – IPV causes smoking – couldn’t be determined since the data was collected at only one point in time, the study notes. Investigators with the project say research following a group of women over time would be necessary to strengthen the evidence.