It’s Never Too Late to Quit Smoking

Smiling Senior Couple Outside

Cigarette smoking causes around 30% of all cancer deaths in the U.S. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to quit, and the sooner the better. But quitting is rewarding no matter how old you are or whether you have health problems. 

And the benefits are almost immediate. Ex-smokers have fewer illnesses such as colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and feel healthier than people who still smoke. Just 20 minutes after quitting, your heart and blood pressure drop. In just 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. In as little as 2 weeks, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.

Nearly everyone knows that smoking can cause lung cancer, but fewer people realize it is linked to a higher risk for many other kinds of cancer, too. Quitting smoking also lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke, and chronic lung disease.

If you have cancer

If you've already been diagnosed with cancer or another significant health problem, quitting smoking often makes it more likely the treatment will be successful and that you'll have fewer side effects.

But a study by American Cancer Society researchers found that about 1 in 10 cancer survivors still reports smoking about 9 years after a diagnosis. Lead author Lee Westmaas, PhD, American Cancer Society director of tobacco control research, says doctors and health care providers must continue to ask survivors about their smoking and provide resources, including medications and counseling, to help them quit. And if your health care provider doesn't ask you about quitting, says Westmaas, you should do the asking. It could be the first step toward getting the help you need.

If you're a caregiver, Westmaas says you may be able to help a cancer patient by quitting yourself. In a new study, Westmaas and colleagues from the American Cancer Society found that cancer patients and survivors were more likely to keep smoking if they lived in the same household with another smoker.

Quitting when you’re older

According to the National Institutes of Health, being older creates both challenges and advantages when it comes to quitting.

  • The challenges: You have likely tried to quit before, maybe even more than once. Knowing how hard it is may make you feel discouraged about trying again. And if you’ve been smoking a long time, it may be so much a part of everyday life, it’s hard to imagine quitting.
  • The advantages: Older adults have strengths younger people may not have that can help them quit. Over their lifetimes, they have had lots of experience accomplishing difficult tasks. At this point in their lives, they are likely to be better prepared to quit smoking than when they were younger. They know quitting is tough, and they know it won’t be easy, so once they decide to try again they may be more willing to work at it to make sure they succeed.
  • The immediate benefits: Soon after quitting you’ll notice your breath smells better, stained teeth get whiter, food tastes better, and everyday activities like climbing stairs might no longer leave you out of breath. You’ll also be protecting your loved ones from the dangers of secondhand smoke. And smoking is expensive. Calculate how much money you spend each month on cigarettes for extra motivation to quit.

The Great American Smokeout®

Quitting is important, but it isn’t easy. You’re more likely to succeed if you get help. Join us on November 16 for the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout® event, and harness the energy of millions of people taking steps to kick the habit.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Prevalence and correlates of smoking and cessation-related behavior among survivors of ten cancers: Findings from a nation-wide survey nine years after diagnosis. Published online August 6, 2014 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. First author J. Lee Westmaas, PhD, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.

Health behavior theory constructs and smoking and cessation-related behavior among survivors of ten cancers nine years after diagnosis: A report from the American Cancer Society’ s Study of Cancer Survivors-I. Published online July 2, 2015 in Psycho-Oncology. First author J. Lee Westmaas, PhD, American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Ga.


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