Home Health New Study Suggests Smoking Won’t Necessarily Shorten Your Life if You Quit Before 40

New Study Suggests Smoking Won’t Necessarily Shorten Your Life if You Quit Before 40

Researchers say, to get the health benefits of quitting, you don’t have to wait 10 years, you can get significant benefits within the first three years

by Benoit Guesneau
A hand holding a burning cigarette.
Smoking is more common among men, but researchers say, women who smoke like men, die like men (Photo courtesy of Irina Irisner via Pexels).

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People who quit smoking before age 40 can retain life expectancies almost as long as those who’ve never smoked, according to a new study by University of Toronto researchers that was just posted in NEJM Evidence.

While conclusions from the study, conducted by Unity Health Toronto, gives hope to many addicts thinking about quitting, researchers emphasize that this isn’t an open invitation to smoke until you’re 40 years old.

“The thing is, this is the information at the population level. At the individual level, you will certainly get greater benefits if you quit as early as possible,” said Prabhat Jha, executive director of the Centre for Global Health Research at Unity Health Toronto.

Jha, one of several authors who worked on the study, said younger smokers shouldn’t view the study results as a “free pass” because the addictive properties of nicotine make quitting harder the longer you are exposed to the addiction.

“The target we have for the paper and for health care providers is not so much the 20-year-old who thinks they can get away with smoking, it’s the 40-year-old who thinks the reverse. What this study does is show how ridiculously effective quitting is,” he added.

A total of 1.48 million adults were followed over the course of 15 years, from four different countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Norway and Canada. Participants ranged in age from 20 to 79.

The study found that people who quit, regardless of age, get close to ‘never smoker’ death rates after 10 years. About half of that benefit is gained within the first three years of quitting.

According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, 12 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older currently smoke cigarettes. Despite this statistic being lower than previous decades, Jha said we shouldn’t let it deceive us.

“Where vaping has taken off, youth smoking has decreased. But, it’s not a zero risk. The safest thing is to not vape if you’re a kid, but vape as a smoker, to quit smoking.”

Jha pointed out that the fact that younger generations are getting hooked on vapes and cigarettes speaks to the larger issue surrounding how these products are being marketed to target certain demographics.

The tobacco industry, he said, knows the addictive power of nicotine and has sophisticated research targeting varying types of nicotine. 

“They target sub-markets – they’ll have different concentrations for targets, for example, that are African American with greater menthol,” Jha added.

According to Statistics Canada, smoking still accounts for one in five of all the deaths in Canada and is still the country’s biggest preventable cause of death.

Aside from offering hope to people struggling to quit, Jha says his intent is for the healthcare system to see this as an opportunity to create more interactions and accessibility for smokers to get the help they need.

“We need a way of being able to follow up with all of those folks, and that could be apps. Telus has a smoking cessation app. That could be a text message, a phone call or video call with an online counselor.”

Jha said more resources for smokers looking to quit should be readily available across the healthcare industry.

“If the whole health system were set up to try and find the smokers…and give them very simple advice, we know from previous outcomes that would raise quit rates, even small quit rates, and that’s the single best thing you can do for Canadian health.”

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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