Older Adults and Smoking
A common refrain heard from older adults with a smoking habit is statements along the lines of “I’ve smoked a pack a day for forty years, what’s the point in quitting now?” But the fact of the matter is that it’s always the best time to quit smoking. No matter how many packs or how many years you’ve smoked in the past, quitting smoking now will greatly improve your health. Quitting is likely to add years to your life, improve your breathing and energy levels, not to mention save you money.
The detrimental health effects of smoking have been long studied and understood by the medical and scientific community, but of all the effects, there are many that make smoking especially harmful to older adults. Smoking causes one out of every five deaths in the United States, and makes millions of Americans sick with serious and chronic health issues.
While lung cancer is the primary concern and most fatal result of smoking, for older adults, the deleterious effects on circulation, respiratory function, and more are particularly concerning. Smoking causes
- Higher blood pressure, contributing to weakening of the circulatory system and increased risk for heart disease and stroke
- Increased chance of developing eye diseases that lead to vision loss or blindness, including age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration
- Damage the lungs increases chance and severity of infections like pneumonia, the flu, COVID-19, or other lung infections
- Increased chance of osteoporosis
- Increased chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes, with more difficulty controlling the effects once you have it.
- Decreased energy levels, poor wound healing, erectile dysfunction, and duller, wrinkled and sagging skin
Nicotine is the active ingredient in cigarettes that makes them so addictive and difficult to quit. While some people can give up smoking without withdrawal symptoms, many people tend to have strong cravings for cigarettes for some time after. They can also feel tired, irritable, anxious, depressed, have trouble concentrating, or more. These symptoms fade with time.
The first step to quitting smoking is to make a decision and pick a date to stop. Making a plan to deal with how you’ll react to cravings and urges will set you up for success also. You can also speak with your doctor to form a plan, and possibly get a prescription for medications that help remove cravings, or nicotine replacement products such as nicotine gum, or nicotine replacement patches.
Replacing cigarettes with different forms of tobacco, like chewing tobacco, snuff, pipes or cigars is not safer. Just because you’re not inhaling smoke into your lungs doesn’t mean you won’t get cancer, you’ll just be more likely to develop mouth or lip cancer instead of lung cancer.
The benefits of quitting start just minutes after your last cigarette and compound as that time increases. Within a month, lung function and circulation begins to improve, making breathing easier and helping lower blood pressure. Nine months out, and the lungs’ ability to push out mucus and fight infections is greatly increased, as the cilia in the lungs have healed themselves. And after just a year, the risk of heart disease drops by half, and continues dropping after that.