It’s Never Too Late or Too Early to Quit Tobacco
It is never too late or too early to quit using tobacco.
Regardless of your age or smoking history there are tremendous advantages to quitting tobacco. In 1990, the Surgeon General reported that “quitting smoking has immediate and profound health benefits for men and women of all ages and these benefits apply to people with and without smoking-related disease.” The health benefits associated with quitting tobacco apply whether you are currently healthy or you already have smoking-related illness.
Never too late
Many older and middle-aged smokers and tobacco users wrongly believe that it is too late for them to quit because the damage they have done to their health is beyond the point of no return. Not true.
The fact is that whenever someone stops using tobacco her health begins to improve – almost immediately. Research has shown that quitting, at any time, greatly reduces the odds of dying from tobacco-related illness such as cancer, lung disease or heart disease. In addition, quitting also improves one’s appearance, especially the premature wrinkling and skin damage associated with smoking.
Specific health benefits associated with quitting include:
- Within 20 minutes of quitting: Your heart rate drops to a healthier rate.
- Twelve hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal, allowing more oxygen to nourish your body.
- Two weeks to three months after quitting: Your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
- One to nine months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce the risk of infection.
- One year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a current smoker.
- Five to 15 years after quitting: Your stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker.
Never too early
At age 28, Lisa had been smoking daily for more than 13 years. Like many smokers, she began in high school along with many of her friends. When she started smoking she believed that she would quit long before her health would be compromised. After college Lisa moved away to pursue her career, never giving a second thought to her smoking until she returned to attend her 10-year high school reunion. Lisa was shocked to discover how aged and unhealthy she looked and felt compared to many of her classmates who had never smoked or who had quit.
Smoking and chewing tobacco cause subtle, continual and almost imperceptible changes in health and appearance. Like millions of young smokers, Lisa erroneously believed that she had a free pass to smoke because cancer, heart disease and lung disease only occurred in older people who had smoked for decades. While it is true that heart disease and obstructive lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis take decades to manifest, the underlying disease state that predisposes these horrible illnesses is at work each day.
Smoking robs your body of oxygen while depositing highly toxic particulates in your lungs. And contrary to popular belief, many young smokers and tobacco chewers develop life-threatening cancers while in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
Quitting while you are young will help you live longer and healthier. People who stop smoking before age 35 avoid 90 percent of the health risks attributable to tobacco use. Additional studies have found that people who quit smoking before age 50 have one-half the risk of dying in the next 15 years compared with continuing smokers.
Women who stop smoking before pregnancy or during the first three to four months of pregnancy reduce their risk of having a low birth-weight baby to that of women who have never smoked.
Fear of quitting
While almost all addicted tobacco users want to quit, most never succeed because they fear the “process” of quitting.
The first few days and weeks after quitting are the hardest – in fact, for many it is pure agony. Intense cravings, depression, headaches and agitation are just some of the symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal. After a day or two of withdrawal, most return to smoking and chewing to relieve their symptoms.
Take heart because many people do succeed. Since 1965 at least 47 million Americans have quit. Many people need help from doctors, clinics or organized groups and some simply quit on their own. Each person is different so find what will work best for you. The first step is to make a firm decision to quit. Remember, you are never too old or too young to take charge of your health.
By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
© 2005-2010 Achieve Solutions
Source: Gold, M.S., Edwards, D.W. (2000). Treating cigarette smokers in 2000. Your Patient & Fitness, 14(4):6-11.