Quitting can help even elderly smokers live longer
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - It's never too late to quit smoking and reduce the damage cigarettes cause to the lungs and cardiovascular system, according to a new report.
``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,'' concludes Dr. David M. Burns of the University of California, San Diego.
Burns reviewed research on smoking and health to find out whether there are any real benefits for older smokers who quit.
He presents his findings in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.
The three diseases most closely associated with smoking are lung cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), explains Burns.
Because the damage caused by smoking is cumulative, the longer a person smokes the greater the risk of developing one of these conditions. Conversely, the earlier a person quits, the more this risk is reduced.
Nonetheless, even smokers who quit after age 70 increase their chances of living longer, Burns reports. This is true for both heavy and light smokers.
Older smokers are less likely to quit than younger smokers, but the good news is that when they try, they're more likely to be successful, possibly because they're also more likely to get help doing so.
``Cigarette smoking can be conceptualized as a disease contracted in adolescence that causes death and disability predominantly at older ages,'' Burns says, noting that of the more than 400,000 people who die of smoking-related causes each year, about 70% are over age 60.
Patterns of smoking-related death change as individuals age, the researcher explains. Among people 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. Burns explains that this is because cardiovascular disease develops more rapidly than lung cancer or COPD.
Although smokers who quit can't reverse all the damage that's been done to their lungs cardiovascular system, quitting does reduce the risk for developing and dying from these smoking-related conditions. Older smokers who quit won't benefit as much as younger smokers, but they will benefit.
``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,'' Burns concludes.
SOURCE: American Journal of Health Promotion 2000;14:357-361.