Quitting Smoking, Even At 60, Helps You Live Longer

By Amir Khan on June 12, 2012 10:24 AM EDT

Smoking
Quitting smoking, even if you're older 60-years-old, can have numerous health benefits, according to a new study (Photo: Reuters)

Quitting smoking, even if you're older than 60 years old, can have numerous health benefits, according to a new study, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers found that smokers die earlier than non-smokers -- regardless of age.

"This fact calls for effective smoking cessation programs that are likely to have major preventive effects even for smokers aged 60 years and older," Dr. Hermann Brenner, study author and researcher with the German Cancer Research Center, told Fox News. "Even older people who smoked for a lifetime without negative health consequences should be encouraged and supported to quit smoking."

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Researchers analyzed results from 17 studies, ranging in length from 3 to 50 years and following up to 877,000 people. They found that 59 percent of non-smokers reached age 80, compared to only 26 percent of smokers. The researchers also found that smokers who quit before age 40 have the same death rate as non-smokers.

"The hazardous effects of smoking persist even in oldest age," the researchers wrote in the study.

Smoking kills over 400,000 people a year, about 1,200 daily, and the earlier smokers start the more likely they are to die from smoking-related diseases. More than 80 percent of smokers start before age 18 and 99 percent start by age 26.

Smoking can cause a myriad of health problems including stroke, heart disease, chronic lung problems, and various cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Smokers older than the age of 60 were 83 percent more likely to die at any given age than non-smokers. They were at a risk of mouth, pharynx, and larynx cancer 10 times higher than non-smokers.

"These results strongly suggest that smoking cessation is effective for mortality reduction also at older age, a suggestion that should be corroborated by intervention studies, ideally with interventions specifically designed and developed for this target group," the researchers wrote.

Dr. Tai Hing Lam, a professor of public health at The University of Hong Kong, wrote in a commentary accompanying the study that tobacco is one of the top 10 causes of death, and that tobacco use kills one out of every two people who use it.

"Most smokers grossly underestimate their own risks," he wrote. "Many older smokers misbelieve that they are too old to quit or too old to benefit from quitting. Because of reverse causality and from seeing deaths of old friends who had quit recently, some misbelieve that quitting could be harmful. A simple, direct, strong, and evidence-based warning is needed."

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