Never Too Late to Stop Smoking
THURSDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthSCOUT) -- No matter how old you are, it's never too late to quit smoking.
You might not reverse the damage already done, but you can prevent further damage, says Dr. David M. Burns of the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. He authored a study published in the latest American Journal of Health Promotion.
"Emphysema, for example, won't get worse," says Ron Todd, director of tobacco control for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. "Quitting smoking won't get rid of something like emphysema, but if you continue to smoke, you'll eventually have an extremely difficult time breathing. Cessation prevents further damage from being done," he says.
The study finds that 70 percent of the 400,000 smoking-related deaths in the United States each year are people aged 60 and over. The National Cancer Institute says a smoker takes 10 to 14 years after quitting to reach the mortality rate of someone who's never smoked. However, because an older person's body takes longer to heal, the elderly are less likely to quit because they think quitting will do little or no good.
The three diseases deadliest to smokers are coronary heart disease, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The elderly are particularly affected by COPD, which causes emphysema, in which damage to the small airways in the lungs makes breathing ever more difficult.
The study says quitting can significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer and reduce the risk of heart disease in the elderly. Furthermore, the lungs will immediately start to repair any damage and lung function overall will improve, though some conditions like COPD are not reversible.
The study says elderly smokers are less likely to try to quit, although those who try are more likely to succeed. And it says elderly smokers are more likely to seek help.
Jerry Vaughn, program analyst for the University of California's Tobacco Controlled Policies Project, also appeals to the elderly to quit smoking.
"To say cessation after a certain age is ineffective in preventing smoking-related diseases is simply not true. No matter how old you are, the sooner you quit, the better off you will be in the long run," he says.
What To Do
Todd recommends that elderly smokers become familiar with all the pharmaceutical and other methods available for quitting. "I don't care how old you are -- 16 to 60 -- quitting at any age is going to reduce your chances of smoking-related disease."
Todd has a few suggestions: "First, you have to take time to figure out what you're going to do when you would normally smoke. Really plan it out. Second, you have to have confidence in your ability to stop. Not every attempt at quitting is successful, so if you do slip, know that you have done it before and can quit again. Finally, you have to have a strong commitment towards quitting. If you're not serious about quitting, you're going to have a harder time."
"The people who are strongly committed toward quitting have confidence in their ability to quit. They prepare ahead of time and are usually the ones who have the most success," Todd says.
For more information about the dangers of smoking, go to the American Cancer Society's Web site. The National Cancer Institute also offers most of its list of monographs online.
The American Cancer Society is testing a new hotline for Texas residents only at (877) YES-QUIT or (877) 937-7848. If the hotline does well, Todd said it might go national.
See this previous HealthSCOUT story on how women have equaled men in lung disease. Smoking also can cause cancers in unexpected areas of the body. See this story on how it's linked to colorectal cancer.