Why quit smoking – at this age?

Many older smokers have an excuse that on the surface sounds reasonable: “What good will it do me to quit smoking now? It’s not going to make any difference at this point in my life”.

A study in the U.S. shows that contrary to popular belief, quitting smoking offers substantial benefits at any age. Dr. David Burns of the University of California at San Diego recently reviewed research on smoking and health, to discover whether there are any benefits to quitting for older smokers. His conclusions are clear.

“Even at ages over 60 years, (quitting) can have a substantial effect on rates of smoking-induced disease and remains the most effective method of reducing smoking-induced disease risk for elderly smokers,” he writes in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

The reason is the nature of the three diseases closely associated with smoking: lung cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Since smoking causes cumulative damage, the longer you smoke, the greater your risk of developing these diseases.

^Dr. Burns found that even those who quit smoking after the age of 70 boost their chances of living longer, whether they’rheavy or light smokers. Dr. Burns has an interesting take on cigarette smoking, noting that it really should be categorized as a “disease” contracted in adolescence that causes death and disability, predominantly at older ages.

He points out that of the more than 400,000 people in the U.S. who die of smoking-related causes each year, about 70% are over age 60.

Patterns of smoking-related death change as people age. For those under age 50, the most common cause of smoking-related death is coronary heart disease, but by age 55, lung cancer causes more deaths. Deaths due to COPD also increase with age.

The report emphasizes that although older smokers who quit won’t benefit as much as younger smokers, quitting is always well worth the effort.

“The benefits of cessation are proportionately somewhat less among the elderly and may manifest more slowly than among younger smokers, but cessation remains the most effective way of altering smoking-induced disease risks at all ages.”