- Stop Smoking Into Old Age
- April 2005
- Dear Friends
Approximately 9.3% of people older than 65 continue to smoke cigarettes. About 300,000 people age 65 and older die each year of smoking related diseases. A recent article in the AMA News (February 21) reports that an estimated 57% would like to quit. But only about 10% of older Americans actually quit each year. How can we improve this?
Some time ago I wrote an editorial entitled, "It's Never Too Late to Stop Smoking, but How Old Are Your Lungs?" The point I was making is that smoking causes premature losses of lung function in susceptible people. Their lungs actually "age" faster than they do. Why is this important at old age? The answer is easy. We want our lungs to last a lifetime! Healthy people at age 65 have about 20 years ahead, if they can prevent premature aging of the lungs, leading to emphysema/COPD, and other smoking related cancers.
For assistance in stopping, health care workers should always ask about current smoking, assist the smoker in quitting and arrange for consultation in difficult cases. Picking a quit date, and trying to modify the habits that remind people to light up is a good strategy. Many nicotine replacement products are available over the counter or by prescription to reduce the nicotine craving on stopping. Other prescription drugs such as Zyban (bupropion) used alone or with nicotine replacement can help the most addicted smokers. Failure to stop immediately should be followed by another try. It may take up to seven attempts to really succeed.
Get your lung function tested by spirometry. "Test Your Lungs, Know Your Numbers" is the motto of the National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP). NLHEP provides educational materials about COPD and is a service of your respiratory therapy department and your physician.
By stopping smoking NOW, you can approach old age with new vigor and health. Don't smoke out old age! Be there by not smoking!
I'll be in touch next month!
- Thomas Petty, MD