Smokers who fail to ever quit lose about a decade of life expectancy, according to a study. Prolonged, habitual tobacco use inevitably leads or contributes to disease, yet about 45 million Americans smoke. That number is composed of 21 percent of men and 17 percent of women. Cigarette smoking is the nation’s leading cause of preventable deaths, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, killing about 443,000 people each year, or one in five overall deaths annually in the US. Tobacco use kills as many as 5 million people annually on a global scale. Based on current smoking habits, that number will double by 2030.
The benefits of quitting smoking can be significant. Cigarette smoke contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals; hundreds are toxic and about 70 have been proven carcinogenic. Cigarette smoke can cause serious health problems, numerous diseases, and death. People who stop smoking greatly reduce their risk for disease and premature death. Although the health benefits are greater for people who stop at earlier ages, cessation is beneficial at all ages.
Smoking cessation lowers the risk for lung and other types of cancer, reduces the risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, and reduces respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. The risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), one of the leading causes of death in the United States, also declines.
The Washington Post reports smokers who quit by around age 40 can stave off an early death. Those who quit between ages 35 and 44 gained back nine of the potential years otherwise lost to smoking. Smokers who quit between 45 and 54 gain back six years, and those who quit between 55 and 64 gained four years. Quitting young, before age 35, erased the entire decade of lost life expectancy. It is never too late to quit. Advantages in life expectancy come with a significant drop in both heart disease and stroke once smoking is ceased, as tobacco use increases the development of blood clots.
Lung damage takes time to heal. When you quit smoking, the inflammation in the airways goes down. The little hair-like projections in the airways called cilia, which are paralyzed by smoke, begin to work again. Lungs function will improve over weeks to months.
Knowing there are still benefits to quitting later in life should not lull younger smokers into thinking it’s suitable to smoke into later adulthood, consequence free.
Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, led the new quitting smoking study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study linked surveys of 217,000 adults collected for the federal National Health Interview Survey between 1997 and 2004 to cause-of-death records in the National Death Index.
Current smokers in the study died early at a rate triple that of people who never smoked. Few smokers reach age 80. Only 38 percent of female smokers and 26 percent of male smokers live to 80, while 70 percent of women and 61 percent of men who never smoked did in comparison.
“The risk for lung cancer doesn’t disappear, and the risk of respiratory disease doesn’t disappear (in former smokers). But the acute risk for heart attack or stroke pretty much disappears,” says Jha regarding those who opt to quit.