Some cigarette smokers over
65 years old who kick the habit may be able to reduce their risk of dying from
heart-related problems to the level of those who never smoked far faster than
previously believed, according to new research.
Previous research found
that older former smokers who had consumed less than 32 pack years of
cigarettes could reduce their risk of dying from heart disease to the level of
lifelong non-smokers after 15 years.
The pack year measure is
derived by multiplying the number of cigarettes smoked per day by the number of
years a person was a smoker. For example, 32 pack years would be 3.2 packs a day
for 10 years or two packs a day for 16 years.
"The new finding is if
you smoke less than 32 pack years, you might become like 'never-smokers' much
sooner than 15 years," said Dr Ali Ahmed, who reported the findings at the
American Heart Association scientific meeting in Dallas.
Positive message for everybody
Many people in the study
lowered the risk of developing heart failure, or risk of dying from heart
failure, heart attacks and strokes to the same level as those who never smoked
in nearly half the time as previous research had indicated.
"For half of them, it
was eight years after cessation," said Ahmed, a professor of
cardiovascular disease at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of
"Even for the heavier
smokers, who smoked more than 32 pack years, compared to current smokers, they
will significantly reduce the risk of total mortality by 35% (by quitting), so
there's a positive message for everybody," said Ahmed.
Cutting the risk to the
level of never-smokers was a much higher bar than comparison with current
smokers, Ahmed added.
Most preventable cause of early death
Researchers compiled their
data by analysing 13 years of medical information from the Cardiovascular
Health Study begun in 1989 and sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood
Institute. They compared 853 people who quit smoking 15 or fewer years before
with 2 557 people who never smoked cigarettes. Of the former smokers, 319 had
smoked less than 32 pack years.
Smoking remains the most
preventable cause of early death in the United States and elsewhere. So the
main message remains: "If you smoke, quit and quit early," Ahmed
But even those who do not
stop smoking until they reach the Medicare-eligible age of 65 appear likely to
derive heart health benefits from stopping.
While the heart-related
mortality benefits seen in the study seem clear, researchers said, lung damage
is not as easily reversible. Those who smoked less than 32 pack years and quit
up to 15 or more years ago were still at higher risk of dying from lung cancer,
emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.