People who stop smoking can live a lot longer, regardless of the age at which they quit, according to a report in the American Journal of Public Health (2002;92:990–996). The study found that younger people benefit the most, but even those who are 65 can add years to their life by quitting.
“What's unique about this study is that it gives some hope even to 65-year-olds who smoke,” said Donald Taylor Jr., PhD, at Duke University in Durham, NC. “A man would add between 1.4 and 2 years to his life. That's a tangible benefit you can get even late in life from stopping smoking.”
According to the study, women who were 65 years old added between 2.7 and 3.7 years to their lives when they quit compared with continuing smokers. But the greatest benefits were seen by the youngest people in the study. Male smokers who quit at age 35 could expect to live between 6.9 and 8.5 years longer than continuing smokers. The benefit for 35-year-old women was between 6.1 and 7.7 years.
Largest Study of Its Kind
In order to calculate the benefits of quitting, researchers from Duke University and the American Cancer Society analyzed data from 877,243 respondents in the ACS Cancer Prevention Study II, an ongoing prospective mortality study begun in 1982. They compared data on smokers, former smokers, and those who had never smoked. The national scope and large sample size of the Cancer Prevention Study II permitted use of modeling techniques that could estimate the benefits of cessation more accurately than had been done before.
“With 47 million smokers in the United States, the message that it's never too late to quit is an important one,” said Michael Thun, MD, ACS Vice President for Epidemiology and Surveillance Research. “Quitting is the only proven approach by which a smoker can avoid much of the increased risk of lung and other cancers, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive lung disease, and other disorders caused by smoking. The benefits of quitting smoking are much larger than the benefits from treating these diseases, once they occur.
“Quitting is difficult, but it is possible. For most smokers, tobacco dependence is com-parable in severity to the dependence caused by opiates, amphetamines, or cocaine. Research clearly shows that clinicians can help their patients quit, but these counseling and pharmacological interventions are, unfor-tunately, underutilized.”