Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health. Everyone. We know quitting is the obvious choice for better health, but it isn’t easy by any means. But what better incentive to quit than to know you could add nearly a decade to your life by quitting before 40?
A new study published in British medical journal The Lancet followed 1.2 million women in the UK for 12 years, starting between 1996 and 2001, and found that quitting between the ages of 30 and 40 added about 10 years to lifespan, whereas continuing to smoke reduced lifespan by about 11 years.†
Participants were between the ages of 50 and 65 at the start of the study, and analysis of their health habits showed that 20% were smokers, 28% were ex-smokers, and 52% were and had always been nonsmokers. Additional data was gathered 3 years after the initial survey, and continued for nine years. By the end of the study, about 66,000 participants had died.
Analysis revealed a threefold increase in mortality among the smokers who continued to smoke at the three-year resurvey point when compared to the nonsmokers. Causes of death also showed that smokers were more likely to die from heart or lung disease, stroke, or cancer. This means smoking contributes to two-thirds of all deaths among female smokers in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.
The number of cigarettes smoked correlated with an increase in death risk; however, even “light” smokers who smoked between one to nine cigarettes daily were twice as likely to die compared to nonsmokers.
On the other hand, women who quit smoking before 40 avoided more than 90% of the increased risk of dying associated with continued smoking and saw an average lifespan gain of more than nine years compared to those who continued to smoke. Women who quit before 30 fared even better – a 97% lowered early mortality risk and about 10 years added to lifespan.
This study is significant because it is one of the most extensive studies to date on the consequences of smoking for this generation of women. This particular demographic is likely the first group to have smoked substantially throughout their adult lives, given that smoking among women reached peak popularity in the 1960s, both in Europe and the United States.
But because there is a “lengthy time lag between smoking uptake by young women and disease onset in middle and old age… we had to wait until the 21st century to observe the full consequences in women…might seem paradoxical," writes researcher Rachel Huxley of the University of Minnesota.
Of course, it is important to note that these results do not imply that it is safe to continue smoking until 40.
Study co-author Richard Peto of the University of Oxford warns, "Women who do so have throughout the next few decades [of their lives] a mortality rate 1.2 times that of never-smokers. This is a substantial excess risk, causing one in six of the deaths among these ex-smokers."
The Bottom Line
The results of this study really drive home the importance to never start smoking or to quit smoking early in adulthood. This is particularly vital for women, for whom the number one cause of death is cardiovascular disease, and just one risk factor – such as smoking – can double the risk of heart disease.
If dying at a younger age doesn’t get you to kick the habit perhaps this will: smoking promotes premature aging. Nicotine causes blood vessels in the outermost layers of skin to narrow, impeding blood flow. The skin then receives less oxygen and nutrients, causing it to lose its healthful glow. In addition, many of the 4,000+ chemicals in tobacco smoke damage collagen and elastin – the fibers that give skin its youthful firmness and elasticity – and skin starts to sag and wrinkle as a result.
With November 15th marking the 37th Great American Smokeout, an initiative of the American Cancer Society, NOW is the time to kick the habit. The ACS's website provides plenty of resources and links that increase your chances of quitting successfully.
Here's two dietary & lifestyle ideas that may also help you to quit:
Eat more fruits and vegetables. A study published earlier this year shows that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables are more likely to smoke less, be less dependent on nicotine, and quit smoking successfully.
Get physical. Another recent study has shown that exercise curbs nicotine cravings. Smoking is thought to have a minor appetite-suppressing and metabolism-increasing effect, but exercising will help you quit and preemptively prevent any weight gain you might be worried about.
†The Million Women Study is a national study of women’s health, involving more than one million UK women aged 50 and over. It is a collaborative project between Cancer Research UK and the National Health Service. The Study is investigating how various reproductive and lifestyle factors affect women’s health. In particular, the study is looking at how hormone replacement therapy affects a woman’s breasts and other aspects of her health. Other factors being investigated include diet, exercise, employment patterns, oral contraceptive use, childbirth and breastfeeding, and family history of illness, in relation to a wide range of cancers and to other conditions such as fractures, gallbladder problems and cardiovascular disease.