“I’ve been smoking two packs a day for 40 years – what’s the use of quitting now?” Will I even be able to leave after all this time?

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you have been smoking, quitting at any time can improve your health. When you quit smoking, you will add years to your life, breathe easier, have more energy, and save money. You can also:

Smoking shortens your life. It causes about one in five deaths in the United States each year. Smoking makes millions of Americans sick for the following reasons:

  • Lung disease. Smoking damages your lungs and respiratory tract, sometimes leading to chronic bronchitis. It can also cause emphysema, which destroys your lungs and makes it very difficult for you to breathe.
  • Heart disease. Smoking increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Cancer. Smoking can cause cancer of the lungs, mouth, larynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidneys, bladder and cervix.
  • Respiratory problems. If you smoke, you are more likely than non-smokers to get the flu, pneumonia or other infections that can prevent you from breathing.
  • Osteoporosis. If you smoke, your chances of developing osteoporosis (weak bones) are higher.
  • Eye diseases. Smoking increases the risk of eye diseases that can lead to vision loss and blindness, including cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
  • Diabetes. Smokers are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than non-smokers, and smoking makes it harder to control diabetes once you have it. Diabetes is a serious disease that can cause blindness, heart disease, nerve disease, kidney failure and amputations.

Smoking also easily tires the muscles, makes it difficult to heal wounds, increases the risk of erectile dysfunction in men, makes the skin dull and wrinkled.

Nicotine is a drug

Nicotine is a drug in tobacco that is so addictive. Although some people who quit smoking do not have symptoms of smoking, many people continue to have strong cravings for smoking. They may also feel angry, hungry, or tired. Some people have headaches, feelings of depression, or problems with sleep or concentration. These symptoms disappear over time.

Help to leave

Many people say that the first step to successfully quitting smoking is to make a firm decision and choose a specific date to quit. Make a plan to deal with situations that trigger your desire to smoke and to cope with passions. You may have to try many approaches to find the one that works best for you. For example, you can:

Some people worry about gaining weight if they quit smoking. If this applies to you, make a plan to exercise and be physically active when you leave the sport – it can distract you from your desires and is important for a healthy aging.

Break addiction

When you quit smoking, you may need support to cope with your body’s craving for nicotine. Nicotine replacement products help some smokers. You can buy chewing gum, patch or lozenges on the counter.

There are also prescription medications that can help you quit. Nicotine nasal spray or inhaler can reduce withdrawal symptoms and make it easier for you to quit smoking.

Other medications can also help with withdrawal symptoms. Talk to your doctor about which medications may be best for you.

Cigars, pipes, hookahs, chewing tobacco and enfi are not safe

Some people think that smokeless tobacco (tobacco chewing and enfi), pipes and cigars are a safe alternative to smoking. They are not. Smokeless tobacco causes cancer of the mouth and pancreas. It also causes pre-cancerous lesions (known as oral leukoplakia), gum problems, and nicotine dependence. Pipo and cigar smokers can develop cancer of the mouth, lips, larynx, esophagus and bladder. Those who breathe while smoking are also at risk for lung cancer, as well as heart disease, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. The use of hookahs for smoking poses the same health risks as smoking.

Second-hand smoke is dangerous

Second-hand smoke from cigarettes, cigars and tobacco can cause serious health problems for smokers’ families, friends and even pets. Second-hand smoke is especially dangerous for people who already have lung or heart disease. In adults, smoking can lead to heart disease and lung cancer. In infants, this may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the unexplained death of an infant under 1 year of age. Children are also more prone to lung problems, ear infections and severe asthma when they are around smokers.

Good news about quitting

The good news is that after quitting smoking, even 60, 70 or later:

  • Your heart rate and blood pressure fall to more normal levels.
  • Your nerves begin to renew so that you can smell and taste better.
  • Your lungs, heart, and circulatory system will begin to function better.
  • You will feel less coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Your chances of having a heart attack or stroke will decrease.
  • Your breathing will improve.
  • Your chances of getting cancer will decrease.

No matter how old you are, all of these health benefits are important reasons to make a plan to stop smoking.

You can quit smoking: stay with it!

Many people need a few attempts before quitting completely. If you slip and smoke, you will not fail. You can try again and succeed. Try these tips to get back to your goal.

It is never too late to reap the benefits of quitting. Even in later life, giving up can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer over time, and reduce your risk of death.

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For more information on smoking cessation

This content is provided by the NIH National Aging Institute (NIA). NIA scholars and other experts are reviewing to ensure that this content is accurate and relevant.

Content reviewed: January 17, 2019