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02-10-2024

Quitting smoking at any age brings big health benefits and immediate life extension

Significant evidence has emerged on the life-extending benefits of quitting smoking. Remarkably, the benefits of quitting smoking extend to individuals of any age.

Life expectancy for people who quit smoking approaches that of never-smokers within a decade of quitting — half of this advantage manifesting within the first three years.

Beacon of hope for smokers

Conduced by researchers from the University of Toronto at Unity Health Toronto, the study reveals that individuals who stop smoking before reaching 40 years of age have the potential to live nearly as long as those who have never indulged in smoking.

Prabhat Jha, a prominent professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, and the executive director of the Centre for Global Health Research at Unity Health Toronto, emphasized the efficiency of quitting smoking.

“Quitting smoking is ridiculously effective in reducing the risk of death, and people can reap those rewards remarkably quickly,” Jha stated, highlighting the swift and significant health benefits of cessation.

The research tracked 1.5 million adults across four nations — the U.S., UK, Canada, and Norway — over a span of 15 years.

It found that smokers aged 40 to 79 were almost three times more likely to die than their non-smoking counterparts, effectively shortening their lifespan by 12 to 13 years.

On a brighter note, individuals who quit smoking saw their risk of death decrease to 1.3 times that of never-smokers. Even those who had quit for less than three years observed a life expectancy gain of up to six years.

Debunking myths: It’s never too late to quit smoking

Jha countered the common misconception that quitting smoking later in life may be futile.

“Many people think it’s too late to quit smoking, especially in middle age,” said Jha. “But these results counter that line of thought. It’s never too late, the impact is fast and you can reduce risk across major diseases, meaning a longer and better quality of life.”

The study further identified that the reduction in mortality risk was particularly notable in deaths caused by vascular disease and cancer.

While former smokers also saw decreased mortality from respiratory diseases, the improvement was slightly less pronounced, likely due to lasting lung damage.

Global challenge: Smoking’s lingering threat

With around 60 million smokers in the study’s participating countries and over a billion globally, smoking remains a leading cause of preventable death despite a more than 25% decrease in global smoking rates since 1990.

Jha believes these findings should motivate governments to enhance support for individuals seeking to quit smoking.

He advocated for increased cigarette taxes and improved cessation support as effective strategies to curb smoking rates.

“Helping smokers quit is one of most effective ways to substantially improve health. And we know how to do that, by raising taxes on cigarettes and improving cessation supports,” implored Jha.

He also called for an overdue increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes in Canada, suggesting that other countries could benefit from similar measures.

Mobilizing the healthcare system

Jha recommended a comprehensive approach to cessation support, including clinical guidelines and resources like helplines, coupled with a health-system-wide effort to encourage quitting.

Jha emphasized the role of healthcare professionals in supporting smokers’ cessation efforts, advocating for a compassionate, non-judgmental approach that acknowledges the high addictiveness of cigarettes.

“When smokers interact with the health care system in any way, physicians and health professionals can encourage them to quit, pointing out how well quitting works,” Jha said.

“This can be done with concern, and without judgement or stigma, recognizing that cigarettes are engineered to be highly addictive.”

Quitting smoking: The endless battle against tobacco

In summary, Jha’s study unequivocally demonstrates the transformative impact of quitting smoking, highlighting that it’s never too late to make a change for the better.

By showcasing the rapid health benefits and potential for increased life expectancy, even for those who quit later in life, this research offers a compelling call to action for smokers, healthcare professionals, and policymakers alike.

Prabhat Jha’s insights emphasize the effectiveness of cessation efforts and the critical role of supportive measures, including taxation and healthcare interventions, in facilitating this life-saving transition.

This strategy underscores the importance of understanding and addressing the challenges of addiction while highlighting the tangible benefits of quitting smoking for a longer, healthier life.

The full study was published in the journal NEJM Evidence.

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