Smokers who quit before 40 save a decade of their lives: study

According to Health Canada statistics, for the tenth year in a row, Saskatchewan has the highest youth rate for tobacco use in Canada. Supplied photo/

TORONTO – This may be the push you need to trash the cigarettes.

A groundbreaking study led by a University of Toronto doctor suggests that smokers who quit before they turn 40 can live almost as long as people who never smoked.

Research suggests that smoking cuts a person’s lifespan short by a decade, but after analyzing health and death records, the Toronto researchers found that quitting offers significant reprieve.

“There is about a decade of life lost between smokers and non-smokers,” Dr. Prabhat Jha told Global News.

“Those that quit smoking by age 30 basically got the full decade of life back and those that quit smoking even by age 40 got nine years of life back.”

Jha, head of the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital, authored the study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Quitting nets smokers at least four years of life

Patterns from his analysis showed that people who quit between 35 and 44 gained about nine years meanwhile quitting between 45 and 64 years old were returned four to six years of life.

Jha says that today, most healthy non-smokers can expect to reach 80 years old, but for those who continue smoke, the likelihood is less than 40 per cent.

What’s unique about the study is that a representative sample of Americans was used to examine the risk of smoking and the benefits of stopping.

“Earlier studies on smoking had been done in populations like nurses or doctors who tend to be a little different than the average American,” Jha explained. They’re healthier than the average American.

“So this study was like an opinion poll, a true snapshot of Americans.”

The health data of 200,000 people from US national health indexes was used in Jha’s research. The information includes death certificate information for all Americans as far back as 1986.

About 16,000 deaths included in the study were linked to smoking.

Jha also notes that smoking patterns in Canada and the US are similar – smokers tend to start before age 20 and they’ll smoke on average about a pack a day at least.

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Forty million Americans and four million Canadians smoke. Meanwhile, there are about 1.3 billion smokers around the world and 30 million young adults begin smoking each year, statistics show.

Women and smoking

The study also zeroed in on how smoking affects women – the researchers say it’s among the first to document a generation of American women who picked up smoking at an early age and continued into their adulthood.

In the past, the medical community has suggested that the risks involved with smoking didn’t affect women as much as men, but that’s changed.

“Women who smoke like men, die like men,” Jha said of his findings.

For women, dying from smoking-related causes are 50 per cent greater than what was initially found in 1980s research.

Research on women and smoking had been scarce in the past because the group began smoking later than men by two decades. Scientists only began to study the effect on women decades after the 1960s.

Quit earlier to reap the most benefit

Jha says he doesn’t want readers to think that the take-home message is smoking is okay so long as you quit by 40.

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“Those that quit by age 40 still have a small, but significant excess risk of dying. Now that risk is much, much smaller than if you continue to smoke, but it’s real,” he said.

“So to get the full benefits of being a never-smoker, the strategy for smokers should be to quit by age 30. Quitting by 30 means you’re closer to never-smoker death rates.”

He’s hoping the findings offer reluctant quitters, who hesitate because they’ve spent a lifetime smoking, an incentive to give up for good.

“If you take a 40-year-old smoker today, they may have started by age 15. So they’ve been smoking for 25 years and they may think, ‘Ah, I’ll get nothing out of quitting. It’s too late.’ But it’s not true. If they quit, they get back much of the life they would have lost from continuing to smoke,” he said.

The study adds to another body of evidence from Britain, Japan and the U.S. that reviewed 50 years of smoking death rates in the U.S. That research suggests the risks involved is a decade of life lost.

– With files from Kathlene Calahan, Global News

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