Each year, more than 480,000 people die from tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the US. The deadly effects of cigarettes are widely known, yet millions of Americans, senior citizens included, find it a difficult habit to break.
There are plenty of reasons to quit smoking. Maybe you are worried about your health, and your doctor recommends it. Perhaps you want to save the money for other things – smoking one pack per day can cost upwards of $1,825 per year. You may be tired of the inconvenience the addiction to cigarettes adds to your life. Your friends and family could be urging you to quit, and you also want to keep them safe from the effects of secondhand smoke. So what’s stopping you?
For senior smokers, it can be difficult to let go of a habit that’s been a part of their life for years, or even decades. Nicotine, the addictive main ingredient of cigarettes, might have been the cause of previous failed attempts to quit. Many seniors may view quitting as pointless. After all, what difference can it make for someone in their 60s or 70s?
In reality, the effects of quitting begin as quickly as 20 minutes after your last cigarette. The following timeline from the US Department of Health and Human Services shows the continued health benefits of quitting, even in old age.
20 Minutes After Quitting:
Your heart rate drops to a normal level.
12 Hours After Quitting:
The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
2 Weeks to 3 Months After Quitting:
Your risk of having a heart attack begins to drop.
Your lung function begins to improve.
1 to 9 Months After Quitting:
Your coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
1 Year After Quitting:
Your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.
5 to 15 Years After Quitting:
Your risk of having a stroke is reduced to that of a nonsmoker’s.
Your risk of getting cancer of the mouth, throat, or esophagus is half that of a smoker’s.
10 Years After Quitting:
Your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a smoker’s.
Your risk of getting bladder cancer is half that of a smoker’s.
Your risk of getting cervical cancer or cancer of the larynx, kidney or pancreas decreases.
15 Years After Quitting:
Your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as that of a nonsmoker.
The effects of smoking can overall cause a senior to feel worse and be sicker, losing precious time that could be spent with family and friends, simply enjoying life. Smoking is unhealthy at any age, but it raises the risk of certain conditions that seniors are already more likely to suffer from, such as lung and mouth cancers, osteoporosis, cardiac conditions, and respiratory infections and damage. Some effects of quitting that seniors can expect are:
- Tasting and smelling more vibrantly
- Reducing your risk of heart attack and cancer
- Having fewer respiratory problems
- Improved circulation
- Not smelling of smoke in your skin, hair, home, clothing
- Having a healthier family because they’re not exposed to secondhand smoke
- Saving money on cigarettes
- Exercising more easily and enjoying it more because it’s easier to breathe – even just the simple act of walking will be easier
- Living longer
- Feeling more energetic
How to Quit
It won’t be easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Some people are able to quit cold turkey without the help of aids like medications, patches, or nicotine gum. This is a great approach that will help you quit as soon as possible, but the effects of nicotine withdrawals may make this method too difficult for some seniors. Gradually weaning yourself off cigarettes might be easier, as it makes the withdrawals and cravings less intense. Before you or your senior loved one quits, knowing what to expect from withdrawal symptoms may make them easier to deal with.
Learn to replace cigarettes with other things – a cup of coffee at breakfast, a piece of fruit during the day, or a small piece of candy after dinner. Pick up new activities that keep you busy and will help you avoid smoking, like long walks, playing cards, or knitting. It may be difficult, but it also helps to stay away from other smokers to avoid the temptation. To read more about how to quit smoking, click here. No matter your age, quitting smoking will immediately help you lead a healthier and happier life.
Written by Taylor French, Amada contributor.