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Quitting smoking reduces mortality at any age, study of over 70s finds

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 02 December 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6468
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

Quitting smoking at any age is associated with reduced mortality, as a study in people aged over 70 found that current smokers had higher mortality than former smokers, including those who quit in their 60s.1

Most studies on smoking and mortality have focused on middle aged populations, and little evidence existed of the benefit of quitting in elderly people.

The new study reviewed data on 160 113 people aged over 70 (median age 75) taking part in a large US survey on diet and health. Participants completed a questionnaire on their smoking habits in 2004-05, and deaths in the group were followed up until the end of 2011.

The results, reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine,1 showed that current smokers were over three times as likely to die during the follow-up period as people who had never smoked (hazard ratio 3.18 (95% confidence interval 3.04 to 3.31)).

Quitting smoking at any age was associated with a lower risk of death than continuing to smoke. Former smokers who had quit at a younger age had the greatest reduction in mortality when compared with current smokers.

The mortality rate was more than halved in people who quit aged 30-39 (0.41 (0.39 to 0.43)), while it was cut by half in those who stopped at 40-49 (0.51 (0.49 to 0.54)) and by a third in those who quit at 50-59 (0.64 (0.61 to 0.67)).

But even people who stopped smoking aged 60-69 showed 23% lower mortality than those who had continued to smoke (0.77 (0.73 to 0.81)).

“Former smokers were at substantially reduced risk of mortality after age 70 years relative to current smokers, even those who quit in their 60s,” said the lead author, Sarah Nash, of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, USA.

She added, “These findings show that smoking cessation should be emphasised to all smokers, regardless of age.”


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