Too Late to Quit Smoking?

Related topics: Health & Wellness

Painting of smoking woman

People under 50 have been told since they were young about the dangers of smoking. But seniors today grew up when smoking was portrayed as glamorous, sophisticated—even as healthy. Elders who tell their skeptical grandkids that cigarette ads used to feature endorsements by doctors are remembering accurately. (Click here to see some of these rather shocking ads!) This was just one of the many ploys cigarette companies used to use to convince customers that smoking was safe.

We know better now, of course. Cigarette packages are required to carry warnings about the health damage caused by smoking, such as cancer, emphysema and heart disease. This is only a start. No package is large enough to cover all the negative effects! Consider these recent studies:

  • Kaiser Permanente researchers recently announced that heavy smoking in midlife increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease by 157%, and the risk of vascular dementia by 172%. The study tracked over 21,000 people for over 20 years. Research scientist Rachel Whitmer says, "This study shows that the brain is not immune to the long-term consequences of heavy smoking."
  • The American Pain Society reports that smokers are much more likely to experience muscle and joint pain. University of Kentucky researchers noted, "Smoking-induced coughing increases abdominal pressure and back pain and nicotine may decrease pain thresholds by sensitizing pain receptors."
  • A recent UCLA study shows that smoking increases the risk for vision loss due to age-related macular degeneration, no matter what the person's age. Smoking is the second highest risk factor for AMD. The number one risk? Age. While that is something we can't do anything about, it is good to know that according to study author Dr. Anne Coleman, "Even older people's eyes will benefit from kicking the habit."

Virtually all health conditions are worsened by smoking. And if quitting for your own good isn't reason enough, consider that smoking is harmful for our economy. Smoking is a factor in today's spiraling healthcare costs. The American Medical Association recently reported that expenses directly connected to death and disease caused by smoking costs the U.S. economy over $300 billion each year. Medicare estimates that 10% of its budget goes toward treating smoking-related illness.

But for seniors who have smoked all their lives, does it do any good to quit now?

Studies show that it does. In its announcement about increased coverage of smoking cessation for Medicare beneficiaries, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) points to the benefits of quitting, even after 30 or more years of smoking:

  • Lung function and circulation begin to improve soon after quitting.
  • Smokers who quit have cardiovascular mortality rates similar to those of non-smokers, no matter what their age.
  • Older smokers who have had a heart attack reduce their risk of another by quitting.

At present, seniors are less likely than young people to enter a smoking cessation program. But the good news is that when they do, they are more likely to be successful at kicking the habit.

Helpful Resources

Under the Affordable Care Act, smoking cessation counseling is now covered by Medicare. Visit the website to learn more about this benefit.

Visit for more smoking cessation resources and information.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. The Lung Association offers the online Freedom from Smoking program.

November 17 is the Great American Smokeout. The American Cancer Society offers tools and information to help people of every age quit the habit. Check out the Cigarette Calculator for extra motivation.

Need more motivation? See the "Quit Smoking and Save" Word Scramble in this issue!