Even elderly smokers benefit from stopping

New research suggests that even grandpa should quit smoking. Traditionally, the medical evidence for smoking cessation has been limited to young and middle-age patients, making the push to quit at an older age a weak initiative.

The assumption has been that elderly patients have more pressing health problems, and the potential benefit from smoking cessation at an elderly age, although present, might not be substantial.

A new research study and accompanying commentary published in June’s Archives of Internal Medicine refutes this assumption and demonstrates that the benefit of smoking cessation in elderly patients is significant.

Dr. Carolin Gellert and colleagues combined data from 17 studies to examine the risk of death in patients ages 60 and older. After accounting for differences such as alcohol consumption and exercise between smokers and nonsmokers, they show that smoking contributes to an 83 percent higher risk of death.

Elderly patients who quit smoking lowered their risk of death by approximately 25 percent. Even when examining patients 80 years and older, researchers found that patients who quit smoking at such an advanced age had a similar reduction in their risk of death.

Smoking is a costly activity for the smoker and for our country. In a 2008 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking was the primary risk factor for almost one-third of cancer deaths and a major contributor to heart disease. It is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. In addition, grandpa’s second-hand smoke increases his grandchildren’s risk of developing lung disease. Smoking costs our country almost $25 billion in lost productivity each year.

For patients who wish to quit, the most effective strategies involve a combination of counseling and medications. Patients should set up an appointment with their physician, who can help coordinate the process. Individuals can also visit www.smokefree.gov or call the free national smoking quitline at (800) QUIT-NOW to connect with trained counselors who can assist with the process.

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