Disability Strikes Smokers More Often
MONDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthSCOUT) -- Not only can smokers expect shorter lives than nonsmokers, but they'll likely spend more of their lives disabled in some way, claims new research.
A 30-year-old man who smokes generally can expect to live to about 72 years of age, say Dutch researchers. He'll spend 7.5 of those years disabled, they say.
On the other hand, a 30-year-old man who doesn't smoke, or who quits smoking, will live to an average age of about 76.5 -- 4.5 years longer than his smoking counterpart -- and will have 5.5 years of disability, they say.
"That's a two-year difference, so the reduction in disability by not smoking is strong," says lead researcher Wilma Nusselder, a professor of medical demography at the University of Rotterdam. The findings appear in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Aside from lung cancer -- the leading smoker's disease -- the main disabilities that people with the tobacco habit experience are more frequent and longer bouts of viral infections, says Jan Healy, the advocacy program manager for the Alliance for Lung Cancer Advocacy Support and Education.
"They get colds and flu and more bronchial infections -- things that hang on longer," she says. "And they also have to deal a lot more with gum disease and mouth sores."
Numerous other malignancies besides lung cancer also are associated with smoking, Healy says, citing head and neck cancers, esophageal cancer and cervical and bladder malignancies.
While Nusselder says that her study put data on former smokers and people who never smoked into the nonsmokers' category, Healy says that ex-smokers always retain an elevated risk of getting lung cancer, compared with lifelong abstainers.
"The risk goes down dramatically after you haven't smoked for 10 or 15 years," Healy says. "But even after 20 years, it's above that of someone who has never smoked." The difference, she says, could be one to two percentage points.
Smoking before the age of 23 is most dangerous because those are the years when "mutations that happen in the lung tissue that predispose people to lung cancer are most significant," she says.
About 22 percent of Americans over age 18 smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 39 percent of adults in the Netherlands smoke, says the European Union.