Older Americans Remain Stubborn Smokers: Study
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Nearly four decades after the US Surgeon General issued a landmark report highlighting the hazards of smoking, new evidence suggests that the anti-smoking campaign that followed has had limited success among older American men.
Anti-smoking campaigns have been less successful with older American men."While there is evidence that the American anti-smoking campaign has resulted in a smoking decline among younger individuals, our research clearly shows that it has been less successful among older, established smokers," Dr. Brad Rodu of the University of Alabama at Birmingham told Reuters Health. "Most of the current 24 million smokers over age 40 are inveterate smokers...(and) they do not quit because they are irreversibly addicted to nicotine."
Rodu and his colleagues analyzed US government data on the smoking habits and number of lung cancer deaths since 1941 among white American men--the group with the highest rates of smoking and smoking-related disease. The researchers stacked this information against the age of each smoker and the amount of time he had been exposed to the anti-smoking campaign. The campaign start date was established as 1965--one year after the Surgeon General report was released.
By 1970, the campaign had begun to demonstrate some success, Rodu's team reports in the February issue of the International Journal of Cancer. They found that relatively young men--those in the 40 to 44 age range, who almost never get lung cancer without a history of smoking--appeared to benefit the most over time, with lung cancer death rates dropping about 55% between 1970 and 1996.
In addition, the investigators found the anti-smoking message appeared to be most effective when heard by young men before they turned 40. Almost 20% of men exposed to anti-smoking messages for 10 years before they turned 40 quit sometime between the ages of 40 and 60. That percentage continued to rise with the number of years these younger men had been exposed to anti-smoking messages--up to 32 years.
However, efforts to get men to quit smoking did hit a wall. About 50% of those men who received maximum exposure to the anti-smoking campaign quit sometime after 40, while the other half resolutely continued to smoke.
"We had certainly hoped to see stronger declines in significant smoking among middle-agedwhite men, given that the anti-smoking campaign in the US has been active for over 35 years," Rodu said. "(But) the American anti-smoking campaign, consisting of a variety of measures which have become more and more intensive in the past 35 years, has had only a modest impact on smoking among older individuals."
These measures, Rodu's team notes, have included warning labels on cigarettes, restrictions on public smoking, advertising limits and educational campaigns. These new findings, according to Rodu, suggest that the anti-smoking movement needs to find ways to reach older, long-time smokers.
"Older, established smokers...are in need of innovative strategies to help them quit smoking," Rodu said.
He suggested that nicotine replacement methods--nicotine gum and patches--could be particularly helpful if directed at older, long-term smokers.
The United States Tobacco Company provided funding for the study.