A Pack of Reasons to Stop Smoking
Older Americans grew up in an era when smoking was portrayed as glamorous and sophisticated. Look through a stack of old magazines from the 50s and 60s and you are likely to find glossy full-page advertisements featuring doctors and nurses lighting up while they speak approvingly about the health benefits of a particular brand of cigarette. This was just one of the many ploys cigarette companies used to use to convince customers that smoking was safe.
We know better now, of course. Cigarette packages today carry warnings about the health damage caused by smoking, such as cancer, lung and heart disease. But no package is large enough to cover all the negative effects. Recent studies link smoking to:
- Dementia. A study from Kaiser Permanente that tracked over 21,000 people for over 20 years found that heavy smoking in midlife increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 157%, and the risk of vascular dementia by 172%. The American Heart Association reports that the more a person smokes, the more poorly they perform on cognitive tests. Smoking also raises the risk of stroke-related dementia.
- Pain. The American Pain Society reported that smokers are much more likely to experience muscle and joint pain. For one thing, smokers cough frequently, and this can increase abdominal pressure and back pain. And University of Kentucky experts reported that the nicotine in cigarettes can sensitize pain receptors, so smokers simply perceive more pain.
- Sensory loss. Numerous studies published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology show that show that smoking raises the risk of a number of conditions that damage our eyesight, including dry eye, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and optic nerve problems. Recent research also shows that smoking raises the risk of hearing loss.
- Osteoporosis. According to the National Institutes of Health, there is a direct relationship between tobacco use and decreased bone strength. Smoking raises the risk of fractures, and slows the healing of broken bones.
Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that smoking harms not only the lungs, but nearly every organ in the body—the heart, the brain, the joints and the immune system. Smoking is bad for oral health. It causes erectile dysfunction in men. And smoking is responsible for almost 500,000 deaths each year in the U.S.
Smoking harms others
If quitting for your own good isn’t reason enough, consider that almost 10% of smoking-related deaths are due to secondhand smoke, when a person isn’t a smoker, but is regularly exposed to tobacco smoke. These people could be your friends, your family, your grandchildren—or, they might not even be people! The American Veterinary Society says secondhand smoke can harm does, cats, birds and even fish.
Smoking also harms the economy
Even though the rate of smoking has declined steadily over the last few decades, it is still a factor in today’s rising healthcare costs. In 2021, the CDC reported that expenses directly connected to death and disease caused by smoking costs the U.S. economy more than $300 billion each year. Medicare estimates that 10% of its budget goes toward treating smoking-related illness.
Even on the personal level, smoking is very expensive. On average, a person who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day would save more than $2,500 each year if they quit.
If an older adult has smoked throughout life, does it do any good to quit now?
Studies show that it does. Medicare covers smoking cessation coverage for beneficiaries, pointing to research showing that seniors benefit from quitting, even after 30 or more years of smoking:
- Lung function and circulation begin to improve soon after a senior quits.
- Smokers who quit soon have cardiovascular mortality rates similar to those of non-smokers of their age.
- Older smokers who have had a heart attack reduce their risk of another one if they quit.
At present, seniors are less likely than young people to enter a smoking cessation program. But take that step. Ask your health care provider about quit smoking resources, which might include classes, support groups and in some cases medications. And if you aren’t successful the first time, try again. Statistics show that of all the age groups, older adults who take part in a smoking cessation program are the most successful at kicking the habit.