It’s never too late to stop smoking, study finds; Kentucky offers help at 1-800-QUIT-NOW

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

It’s never too late to reap the health benefits of quitting smoking, a new study finds.

“Even participants who quit smoking as recently as in their 60s were 23 percent less likely to die during follow-up than those who continued to smoke into their 70s,” epidemiologist Sarah Nash, one of the study’s authors, told HealthDay News.

Kentucky leads the nation in smoking, at 26 percent of adults, well above the national rate of 15 percent. Kentucky seniors’ smoking rate is 12.4 percent; the national average is 8.8 percent. Thus, it’s no surprise that they rank in the bottom five states in the 2016 Senior America’s Health Rankings Report.

The research, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is based on data from more than 160,000 participants older than 70 who were part of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Participants completed a questionnaire about their smoking habits in 2004 or 2005 and were then tracked until the end of 2011 to see who had died. Nearly 56 percent of the participants were former smokers and 6 percent were current smokers.

During the study, 16 percent of the participants died and 12 percent of them were non-smokers, compared to 33 percent current smokers. And though fewer people in the study died if they quit smoking earlier, even those who quit later in life benefited.

The study found that of those who smoked in their 30s, 16 percent died; of those who quit in their 40s, 20 percent died; of those who quit in their 50s, 24 percent died; and of those who quit in their 60s, 28 percent died.

“This study makes it clear that you can’t hide behind the usual smokescreen [that] ‘The damage has already been done, I may as well continue smoking.’ If you quit smoking, you will add years to your life,” Dr. Norman Edelman, a senior medical consultant to the American Lung Association, told HealthDay News.

It also found that the earlier a person started smoking was linked to an increased risk of smoking-related death. Kentucky’s teen smoking rate is 17 percent, and around 23 percent for electronic vapor products, according to the 2015 Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

“Smokers who started smoking earlier in life were at increased risk of death, as were those who smoked more cigarettes per day over the age of 70,” Nash said. “Regardless of their age, all smokers benefit from quitting.”

Kentuckians who want some help to stop smoking can call 1-800-Quit-Now, which is available free to all Kentuckians age 15 or older.

“The uninsured can get eight weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) through the quitline if they remain engaged with a quit coach,” Bobbye Gray, tobacco cessation administrator at the state’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation program, said in an e-mail. “We also offer 8 weeks of free NRT to anyone discharged from the state mental health facilities.”

In addition, many local health departments offer the Freedom From Smoking classes through the American Lung Association, she said.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires all health insurance plans sold after Sept. 23, 2010 to offer smoking-cessation therapy, including medications, at no out-of-pocket cost. Kentucky Medicaid also offers smoking-cessation medications and counseling, though data from earlier this year how that only 17 percent of participants had used it.

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