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Quitting smoking yields quick boost to life expectancy


Study finds significant gains even for those quitting for less than three years

"Stop" formed from cigarettes ©alexvav-stock.adobe.com


Quitting smoking can significantly increase an individual’s life expectancy after only a few years, according to results of a new study.

Researchers at the University of Toronto and Unity Health Toronto followed 1.5 million adults in the U.S., U.K, Canada and Norway over a 15-year time span. They found that smokers between the ages of 40 and 79 were nearly three times more likely to die than those who had never smoked, a difference that translated to between 12 and 13 years of lost life.

However, smokers who quit lowered their risk of death to just 30% higher than those who never smoked. Moreover, those who quit before age 40 could expect to live about as long as nonsmokers, and even those who quit smoking for less than three years gained up to six years in life expectancy.

“Many people think it’s too late to quit smoking, especially in middle age," Prabhat Jha, M.D., DPhil, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the study’s lead researcher said in an accompanying press release. "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 found that quitting smoking lowered the risk of dying from vascular disease and cancer in particular. Deaths from respiratory disease among former smokers also fell but by less, likely because of residual lung damage.

Approximately 60 million people in the four countries involved in the study smoke, as do more than a billion people worldwide, according to the release. And while the global rate of smoking has fallen by more than 25% since 1990, tobacco remains a leading cause of preventable deaths.

Jha said the findings should add urgency to governments’ efforts to help people who want to stop smoking. “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.

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

The study, “Smoking Cessation and Short- and Longer-Term Mortality” was published February 8, 2024, in NEJM Evidence.

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