Stub it out
Even someone who has smoked for 15 years can make up lostground by quitting, new research shows. A smoker who quits can, over time, faceno greater risk of death than a person who has never smoked.
U.S. MORTALITY FROM SMOKING RELATED DISEASES Click and then click again on this chart to view an enlarged version. Adapted from the CDC
PREVENTABLE CAUSES OF DEATH IN THE UNITED STATES Click on this chart to view an enlarged version. Click again from that image to see largest version. Adapted from the CDC
A study of more than 100,000 women shows that it takes about20 years to even the ledger with the grim reaper after kicking the habit. Butsome partial benefits show up sooner. Within five years of quitting, a womanlessens her risk of dying from heart disease by half and from stroke by afourth, compared with women who continue to smoke, researchers report in theMay 7 Journal of the American MedicalAssociation.
“This shows the harms of smoking are actually reversibleover time,” says study coauthor Stacey Kenfield, an epidemiologist at HarvardSchool of Public Health in Boston.
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To make these calculations, Kenfield and her colleagues tappeda study that tracked female nurses from 1980 to 2004 and regularly updated adatabase of the participants’ lifestyles, habits, health records and deaths. Atthe outset, about one-fourth of the volunteers had been smoking for 27 years onaverage and continued to smoke. Another quarter had quit after about 15 yearsof smoking. Nearly half had never smoked. By the end of the study, only 8percent were still smoking.
Most smokers in the study averaged 10 to 15 cigarettes aday, Kenfield says.
The data suggest that the first few cigarettes each day accountfor the increased risk of death from heart disease and stroke. For suchvascular diseases, Kenfield says, “mortality doesn’t go up that much withincreasing cigarettes per day.”
Lung disease is another story. People who smoked roughly twopacks a day were 40 times as prone to dying of lung cancer and 115 times aslikely to die of congestive lung disease, such as emphysema, as nonsmokers,Kenfield and her colleagues found. The deadly effects of lung damage fromsmoking linger longer than damage to other organs, Kenfield concludes.
What’s more, the report turned up harsh warnings for peoplewho begin smoking before age 17. This group was more likely to die during thestudy as were people who started smoking after age 26, other factors beingequal. “It’s important to prevent kids from starting,” Kenfield says.
Other findings from the analysis show that a woman who quitssmoking:
-lowers her risk of dying by 13 percent within the first five years of kicking the habit
-eliminates any risk of death by stroke or heart disease attributable to smoking in 20 years
-eliminates any risk of death from lung cancer related to smoking in 30 years.
This study suggests that quitting smoking at practically anypoint is beneficial, says pulmonologist Byron Thomashow of ColumbiaUniversityCollege of Physicians Surgeons. Unfortunately, preventive approaches such as medication for smokingcessation, hotlines for quitting and public service announcements — all ofwhich show effectiveness — are underfinanced in the United States, he says. “There’s alot of evidence that even brief counseling of two or three minutes with ahealthcare provider increases the quit rate by one-third,” he says. “You canmake a real impact.”