Kicking the Habit
Dangers of tobacco use after 40
While there are many reasons to quit smoking or using tobacco, the risks of continuing the addictive habit only become greater as the years go on later in life. According to the American Lung Association, older smokers tend to smoke heavier and be more likely to have smokingrelated illnesses. In 2008, the ALA found over 17 million over the age of 45 smoked and accounted for over 22 percent of adult smokers. Additionally, older smokers were found to be less likely to believe that smoking was harmful to their health.
“Tobacco use causes over 480,000 deaths annually in the United States, and is the most preventable cause of death,” Dr. Donna Wyatt, with CHRISTUS Primary Care Associates, said. “Smokers die 13 to 14 years earlier than non-smokers, and over 8 million people live with a disease caused by smoking. The risk of these diseases increases over time, so the older the person and the longer they smoke, the more likely they are to suffer from the disease.”
The dangers associated with smoking are significant and range from cancer to heart disease, while ultimately decreasing lung function.
“Smoking increases risk of many types of cancer, including lung and oral, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), periodontal disease, heart disease and stroke, diabetes, and complications of pregnancy,” Wyatt said.
“Everyone’s lung function decreases over time. Smoking accelerates the loss of lung function.”
Much like everything else in today’s world, even smoking and tobacco use is evolving. The use of E-cigs, or electronic cigarettes, has increased and while the target population for their use is with younger adults and adolescents – there are still consequences for their dangers for older adults.
“E-cigs have become more popular,” Wyatt said. “The [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] reports the use has more than doubled since 2010. The most concerning fact is that current use among high school and middle school children has risen to over 13 percent. E-cigs typically contain nicotine, an aerosol and flavoring, but can contain toxins and carcinogens. Nicotine is still harmful, especially to children, affecting brain development and leading to sustained use of cigarettes, since three out of four teen smokers continue to smoke as adults.”
The task of quitting may seem daunting, particularly if the smoking has been ongoing for many years. The benefits, however, of kicking the habit can be significant not only to one’s health but the overall quality of life as well.
“After quitting, the risk of heart attack drops sharply in the first year,” Wyatt said. “After quitting two to five years, the risk of stroke drops to a similar risk of someone that never smoked. After five years, the risk of oral cancers drops in half, and after 10 years, the risk of lung cancer is cut in half. Though most lung damage due to smoking is irreversible, once someone stops smoking, lung function will not decline as sharply as someone that still smoked.
“Besides the reduced risks of death from heart attack, stroke, cancer and COPD, smoking cessation reduces diabetes risk and makes blood sugar more manageable, improves asthma and exercise tolerability, and improves cholesterol and overall cardiovascular health.”
Deciding to quit is only the first step to taking meaningful action to improve one’s health. There are a number of resources to aid in the journey to kick the habit, but Wyatt encourages a visit and discussion with a primary care physician to choose the best path to clearer lungs and a healthier body.
“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.,” she said. “It is extremely addictive and difficult to quit. However, there are many treatments and resources available to help someone quit.
Types of treatment include gum, patch, lozenge, nasal spray, inhaler and oral medications as well as therapy groups and counseling. Please talk to your primary care doctor since most insurances, Medicare, Medicaid and health care exchanges under The Affordable Care Act pay for these visits.”
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Additionally, for those needing an extra push to make the decision or simply just needing encouragement and support, there are services to provide those needs.
“There is also a free counseling service available by text or phone: 1-800-QUIT-NOW or text QUIT to 47848,” Dr. Donna Wyatt said. “Many people have quit several times before they are able to stop for good, so I would encourage everyone who smokes to not give up because it is one of the healthiest decisions you will make for yourself and your loved ones.”