Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com
A lighter sparks a cigarette. A plume of smoke is released into the air from the flame, creating a gray ring around the smoker. This gray ring is not beneficial to the body, as smoking is known to be an established risk factor with premature death. A new report by researchers from the German Cancer Institute in Heidelberg shows Germany delves into the connection found between smoking and death; they found that ex-smokers who stopped smoking lived longer than their counterparts who continued smoking, no matter what age group the person was in.
The German Cancer Institute investigates cancer mechanisms, determines cancer risk factors, and works to find strategies that can help prevent people from developing cancer. In the past, the center has studied how the changes in gene activity could affect lung cancer and how beta blockers do not lower the risk of colorectal cancer. The current report pools together results from 17 earlier studies, summarizing the relationship between smoking and death in seniors.
“This fact calls for effective smoking cessation programs that are likely to have major preventive effects even for smokers aged 60 years and older,” the German researchers write in the paper that´s published in a recent edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
The researchers discovered that smokers who were 60 years and up had a 83 percent more likelihood of dying at any age as opposed to those who had never smoked. Though the connection was weaker among the oldest people, the link was consistently seen in people who were 80 years of age an older. These results correspond to a British study where doctors followed smokers and non-smokers for half a century; in the results, 59 percent of non-smokers and 26 percent of smokers were alive at age 80.
“Even older people who smoked for a lifetime without negative health consequences should be encouraged and supported to quit smoking,” remarked the researchers in an article by Reuters Health.
A commentary, written by Dr. Tai Hing Lam of the University of Hong Kong, accompanied the article and stated that the results showed that one in two elderly smokers will die from tobacco use.
“Most smokers grossly underestimate their own risks,” wrote Lam in the commentary. “Many older smokers misbelieve that they are too old to quit or too old to benefit from quitting.”
As well, the observations that were used in the review had reported outcomes that ranged from three to 50 years with the number of participants ranging in the hundreds to over 877,000 people. All of the studies featured data from people who were current smokers, people who had smoked in the past, and people who had never smoked before over time, so there is no certainty that tobacco was the main cause of the various death rates.
As such, there are certain limitations to the report. Smoking researcher Dr. Prabhat Jha, who leads the Center for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s in Toronto, believes that the review overestimates the negatives of being a former smoker and underestimate the positives of quitting. In an email to Reuters Health, Jha proposed that former smokers may have quit smoking due to an illness-related cause, which could extend the likelihood of an early death.
“Quitting works at any age,” explained Jha to Reuters Health, “but is especially effective if people quit before disease.”