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Quitting Smoking and Seniors' Hearts

Study found reduced death rates from heart-related causes within 8 years
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These were somewhat surprising results, given the age of the patients and their smoking history, Tomaselli said. "The benefit was in a group we weren't sure would benefit as much as people who had smoked less or were younger," he said.

However, both light and heavy smokers continued to have a higher risk of death from other causes, including cancer and emphysema, Ahmed said.

Light smokers had a 29 percent chance of dying from a cause not related to their heart health, while heavy smokers had a 33 percent chance. Nonsmokers had a 22 percent chance, the investigators found.

"Yes, you get cardiovascular benefit [from quitting], but another part of your overall risk remains high even if you smoke at so-called light levels," Ahmed said.

Overall risk of death was 39 percent for nonsmokers, 43 percent for former light smokers and 55 percent for former heavy smokers in the study.

Ahmed and Tomaselli said smokers should heavily weigh the heart benefits of quitting. Heart disease is the number-one cause of death in the United States, taking nearly 600,000 lives a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer, and you can reduce that risk by smoking less and quitting early," Ahmed said. "Smoking is the single most preventable risk for heart disease."

Tomaselli said this study gives doctors a leg up when seniors argue that they've been smoking for too long and it's too late for them to quit.

"You can say to them with confidence that if you quit now, you can realize some benefits for cardiovascular health," Tomaselli said. "It's a reason even in older patients for doctors to be aggressive in recommending smoking cessation."

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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