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Is it ever too late to quit?

Many people will ask, "why should I bother quitting, the damage is probably already done?" No matter how old you are or how long you've smoked, quitting will help to prolong your life. (Questions 37 and 38 detail the benefits of quitting.) People who stop smoking at age 50 statistically can cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years compared to those who continue to smoke.

A prospective study of the early stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) found that forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1)[1] falls gradually over a lifetime, but in most nonsmokers, clinically significant airflow obstruction never develops. In susceptible people, however, smoking may cause irreversible changes in lung function. If a susceptible smoker stops smoking, then he or she will probably not recover all of their lung function, but over time the average rate of loss of FEV1 may revert to near normal. By screening smokers' lung function when they are middle aged, COPD can be prevented. Those with reduced function should be persuaded to stop smoking immediately.

Below is a list of the health benefits of quitting smoking and the timeline for recovering your health:

20 minutes after quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.

2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Your circulation improves and your lung function increases.

1 year after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's.

5 to 15 years after quitting: The risk of a stroke is reduced to that of a nonsmoker.

5 to 10 years after quitting: The lung cancer death rate is about half that of a continuing smoker's. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decreases.

15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker's.

The rewards for not smoking continue throughout the years, prolonging your life and enhancing your day to day living, doing what is socially acceptable and ensuring the health of others by not exposing them to secondhand smoke.

What are the success rates of smokers who quit "cold turkey" and those who quit by participating in a smoking cessation program?

Success rates of smoking cessation methods vary from method to method, depending upon the reporter and his or her mission. Estimates of success rates for the "cold turkey" method (stopping without any medication or other therapy) are between 4% and 7%. Cold turkey results in the lowest rates of successful quitting, but it does achieve the lowest nicotine blood levels within the shortest period of time, compared to nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs). The best data come from the studies on the FDA-approved medications; the most inadequate data about success rates are the results of studies that involve the herbal medicines. The success rates of the NRTs range from 17% to 49%. The success rates of the antidepressants, bupropion and Chantix range between 30.5% for bupropion and 70.5% for Chantix. Successful outcomes of group interventions are extremely rare if used as the only intervention, but in combination with NRT and other therapeutic measures, success rates are greatly improved. Group counseling is frequently recommended for long-term maintenance and relapse prevention because the success rates of continuing to remain smoke-free are better if there is continuing support. Hypnosis and other alternative interventions are not well documented by long-term systematic control studies and therefore cannot be recommended.


  • [1] Part of a set of measures collectively called pulmonary function tests that allow physicians to measure lung function. FEV 1 measures the total volume of air exhaled in one second.
 
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