Proof That Stopping Smoking Saves Lives

By James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H

Good News!  If you stop smoking, you can lower your risk of dying almost back to the risk of those who have never smoked.  It takes some time and lung cancer risks never completely go away, but hey, did you really think it was a free ride?

“Most of the excess risk of vascular mortalitydue to smoking in women may be eliminated rapidly upon cessationand within 20 years for lung diseases,” the authors conclude in the study published in the  May 7, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The observers began studying over 100,000 female nurses in 1980.  Much valuable medical information has been gleaned from them over the years.  This most recent study reviews the rate of deaths among smokers, non-smokers and smokers who quit the nasty habit.  They found almost 3 times more deaths, from any cause, in the smokers.  The amount of smoking increased the risk.  More colon cancer was seen in the smokers, and 7 times more lung cancer.

Now for the good news (something patients ask me all of the time).  In those that quit smoking, the risk of death gradually became that of non-smokers over time.  The cardiovascular disease (heart, circulation, strokes) death rate risk was halved in those who had quit for five years.  By 20 years the overall deaths, including from lung disease, were close to the same in both groups.  Lung cancer risks were still 13 percent more (but had come down 87 percent) than in the never-smokers.

Since death was the endpoint in this observed study, the authors did not comment on nonfatal, debilitating disease.

The bottom line is that this study shows it is definitely worthwhile to quit smoking and the sooner the better.

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