Quitting smoking at any age can have health benefits. However, the earlier you quit, the greater those benefits are likely to be. This article examines the health impacts of quitting smoking at different ages and discusses whether it can ever be “too late” to reap rewards from quitting.
Is there an age where it’s too late to quit smoking?
There is no specific age where it becomes “too late” to quit smoking. Quitting smoking is beneficial at any age. Even long-term smokers who quit later in life can add years to their lifespan and reduce their risk of disease.
Some research does suggest the earlier you quit, the greater the benefits. Quitting before age 35 eliminates over 90% of the excess mortality risk associated with continued smoking. However, quitting after age 60 still reduces mortality risk by 40% compared to those who continue smoking.
So while quitting earlier is better, it’s never too late. Even smokers who quit after being diagnosed with smoking-related diseases can improve their prognosis andquality of life.
What are the benefits of quitting smoking at different ages?
Here is an overview of the health benefits associated with quitting smoking at different ages:
Quitting before age 30
- Eliminates over 97% of risk of death associated with continued smoking
- Reduces risk of lung cancer to almost that of a never-smoker within 10 years
- Reverses early smoking-related lung damage
- Reduces risk of other cancers like oral, throat,esophageal
- Lowers risk of heart disease and stroke to never-smoker levels
Quitting between ages 30-39
- Eliminates over 90% of smoking-related mortality risk
- Reduces lung cancer risk substantially after 10 years
- Reverses some lung damage and prevents further damage
- Reduces cardiovascular disease risk
- Lowers risks of various cancers
Quitting between ages 40-49
- Reduces risk of dying from smoking-related disease by about 60%
- Lowers lung cancer risk
- Reduces risks of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, kidney and bladder
- Reduces risk of stroke and heart attack
- Slows lung function decline
Quitting after age 50
- Reduces risk of lung cancer and other cancers
- Reduces risk of heart disease and stroke
- Improves lung function
- Lowers risk of lung infections like pneumonia
- Reduces COPD symptoms
Quitting after age 60
- Reduces mortality risk by up to 40%
- Lowers risks of cancer, stroke, heart attack
- Slows lung function decline
- Reduces risk of bone fractures
- Improves overall health and quality of life
As demonstrated, quitting smoking continues to provide health benefits even into old age. Those who quit after age 60 still gain an extra 1-5 years of life expectancy on average compared to those who keep smoking.
Does the number of years smoking impact when benefits kick in?
Yes, how long someone has smoked does impact how quickly risk reduction benefits are seen after quitting. However, even heavy smokers still experience considerable benefits over time.
For light smokers, cardiovascular disease risk approaches that of never-smokers within 5 years of quitting. For heavier smokers, it may take longer, up to 10-15 years, to reduce heart disease risk to never-smoker levels.
Lung cancer risk also declines more rapidly in light smokers compared to long-term heavy smokers. After 10-15 years smoke-free, lung cancer risk drops significantly in both groups.
In short, heavy smokers may gain benefits slightly more slowly, but over time their risk still falls dramatically. Sustained smoking cessation improves health outcomes regardless of smoking duration.
Can smoking-related diseases be reversed by quitting?
While quitting smoking cannot wholly reverse damage already done, it can help slow or stabilize smoking-related diseases. Quitting can also improve prognosis and outcomes.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Quitting smoking won’t cure COPD but can help:
- Slow decline in lung function
- Reduce risk of hospitalization and death
- Lower risk of COPD exacerbations
- Improve overall lung health and quality of life
Quitting after heart disease diagnosis can:
- Reduce risk of repeat heart attacks by 50%
- Improve cholesterol levels and blood circulation
- Lower risk of sudden death from heart complications
- Improve heart disease prognosis and life expectancy
Quitting after a smoking-related cancer diagnosis can still provide benefits like:
- Increased survival rate for lung and other cancers
- Lower risk of secondary cancers
- Improved response to cancer treatments
- Enhanced quality of life during and after cancer treatment
Quitting smoking plays a pivotal role in achieving the best possible health outcome, even when serious smoking-related disease is already present. It’s a key part of treatment.
How rapidly do the health risks of smoking disappear after quitting?
Many smoking-related health risks decrease rapidly in the days and weeks after quitting. However, it can take years for some risks to decline to that of a never-smoker.
Here’s an overview of how quickly different smoking risks are reduced after quitting:
|Time after quitting
|Blood pressure and pulse return to normal
|Carbon monoxide level in blood drops to normal
|Chance of heart attack decreases
|Nerve endings and senses of taste/smell begin recovery
|2 weeks to 3 months
|Blood circulation and lung function improve
|Coughing, sinus congestion decrease
|Risk of coronary heart disease cut in half
|For light smokers, heart disease death risk similar to never-smoker
|Lung cancer death rate similar to never-smoker
|Risk of coronary heart disease same as person who never smoked
While some risks take over a decade to reverse completely, the body begins repairing itself almost immediately. And the longer someone sustains smoking cessation, the more risk reduction they will experience.
Does genetics impact how quitting affects health?
Genetic factors may play a small role in how smoking cessation impacts an individual’s health. However, well-designed studies have not found genetics to substantially alter the benefits of quitting.
For example, those with genetic predisposition to lung cancer still experience major risk reduction from sustained smoking cessation. Even if certain genes may influence a smoker’s absolute risk, quitting still brings them significant gains.
In general, the considerable health benefits seen from sustained quitting appear consistent across genetic subgroups. Anyone who quits smoking will experience considerable risk reduction over time.
Can smoking’s effects on lifespan be reversed by quitting?
Smoking takes an average of 10 years off a smoker’s lifespan. The good news is quitting smoking before age 40 reduces the risk of dying prematurely from smoking-related disease to almost normal levels.
Those who quit between ages 50-59 gain back about 6 of those 10 lost years. Quitting after age 60 still adds 1-5 years back to life expectancy on average compared to continued smoking.
While quitting smoking can’t literally reverse time, sustaining cessation for years can enable smokers to regain much of the lifespan previously lost from smoking.
Is it ever too late to quit from a lifespan perspective?
It’s never “too late” to quit smoking considering the lifesaving benefits. Even someone who has smoked for 60 years will enhance their lifespan if they quit at age 70 versus continuing to smoke.
Studies tracking senior smokers show sustained quitting adds back years to life expectancy even at advanced age:
- Quitting at age 65 adds back 3 years on average
- Quitting at 70 adds back 2 years
- Quitting at 80 adds back 1 year
Gaining even 1 year through smoking cessation is meaningful. Considering quitting’s positive effects on quality of life as well, it remains highly worthwhile even into old age.
Does the number of cigarettes smoked per day impact benefits of quitting?
Yes, how much someone smoked does influence risk levels and quitting benefits. Light smokers (fewer than 10 cigarettes per day) reduce their mortality risk back to that of a never-smoker faster than heavy, pack-a-day smokers.
However, even heavy smokers experience massive relative risk reductions from sustained quitting. One study found quitting smoking:
- Cut mortality risk by 90% in those smoking 1-14 cigarettes per day
- Cut mortality risk by 75% in those smoking 25 or more per day
So while light smokers may gain back a given number of “lost” years faster, quitting yields substantial, often rapid benefits regardless of smoking amount.
Does how long someone has smoked impact their risk of lung cancer after quitting?
Yes, smoking duration does influence lung cancer risk following cessation. However, quitting still provides considerable risk reduction even for long-term smokers.
For example, a 55-year smoker who quits smoking would reduce their lung cancer risk by:
- ~30% if smoked for fewer than 25 years
- ~20% if smoked 25-35 years
- ~10% if smoked for over 35 years
Smoking longer means lung cancer risk doesn’t become as low as someone who smoked less. But compared to continuing smoking, sustained quitting still provides substantial risk reduction and added years to life.
Can I reduce my risk of smoking-related diseases to a never-smoker’s level?
Quitting smoking before age 30 enables smokers to reduce risks of lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and other conditions to near never-smoker levels with sustained cessation.
After age 30, risks can still decline dramatically but may not reach absolute never-smoker levels. However, they can come close, especially for light smokers. The key is to quit as early as possible and maintain cessation.
Even if risks don’t reach never-smoker levels, quitting smoking still provides massive relative risk reduction compared to continued smoking, adding years to lifespan in the process.
While quitting smoking earlier in life provides maximum benefits, it’s never too late to quit from a health perspective. Sustained smoking cessation at any age lowers disease risk and enhances lifespan.
Even long-term heavy smokers who quit later in life can significantly improve their health, life expectancy and quality of life. Genetics also don’t preclude smokers from experiencing major risk reduction through quitting.
Quitting smoking remains the single best thing any smoker can do to improve their health outcomes. It’s truly one of the most impactful preventive health steps you can take at any point in life.