Quitting Smoking Even in Old Age Prolongs Life: Study

MONDAY June 11, 2012 -- There's yet more evidence that smoking cuts life expectancy, with a new study that finds the habit increases the risk of early death from all causes among older smokers.

There was good news, though: Quitting, even late in life, helps reduce the risk.

One expert not connected with the study agreed with that finding.

"Smoking cessation is important to improve life quality, and will have a benefit whenever it is done -- although the sooner the better," said Dr. Michael Niederman, chairman of the department of medicine at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.

The review of data involved findings from 17 studies from seven countries (Australia, China, England, Japan, France, Spain and the United States) published between 1987 and 2011. People in the study were followed for between three and 50 years.

Compared to nonsmokers aged 60 and older, smokers had an 83 percent increased risk of death from all causes during the study period, said researchers led by Carolin Gellert of the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg.

Proving that it's always a good idea to quit, former smokers had 34 percent higher odds for death than that of those who never smoked -- still an increase in risk, but much lower than that of current smokers.

The team also found that survival seemed to rise along with the amount of time since a person quit smoking, even at an older age.

The study was published June 11 in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

Another expert said that although the findings were "not surprising," there are lessons to be learned from the data.

"In my experience, individuals who have smoked for several decades are less interested in quitting and are less likely to be encouraged to quit by their health-care providers," said Patricia Folan, director of the Center for Tobacco Control at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y. "There seems to be the sense that if they have made this far -- 60, 70, 80 -- they do not need to quit."

But the new data suggests otherwise, and the findings "may provide incentive for older smokers to quit and encourage providers to target this group of smokers for cessation efforts," Folan said.

Dr. Tai Hing Lam, chairman of the department of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong, echoed those sentiments in an accompanying journal commentary.

"Most smokers grossly underestimate their own risks. Many older smokers misbelieve that they are too old to quit or too old to benefit from quitting," he said. "Simple, direct, strong and evidence-based warning is needed."

More information

The American Lung Association has more about smoking and older adults.

Posted: June 2012


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