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It's Never Too Late to Kick The Habit

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WebMD Health News

Sept. 13, 2000 -- Maggie smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 20 years. "I started by 'coming up to Kool' and hung around for a 'long way, Baby,'" she recalls. By 1994, she couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without breathing hard and her skin had long since lost anything like a rosy glow.

Two weeks ago -- Aug. 31 -- marked Maggie's six-year anniversary as a nonsmoker. Today she still pants going up stairs, but it takes about five flights to get that reaction. She works out 30 minutes a day and a quick look in the mirror confirms that she is "in the pink."

Maggie's story confirms scientific findings reported by a team of researchers from Finland: it is never too late to kick the nicotine habit. Even smokers with significantly impaired lung function will live longer if they quit smoking, according to a study in the September issue of Thorax involving nearly 1,600 middle-aged Finnish men who were followed for 30 years.

Men with the worst lung function when the study began actually "benefited especially from smoking cessation," according to the researchers. Men who quit smoking lived six to seven years longer than the men who kept lighting up.

Holger J. Schünemann, MD, MS, an assistant professor of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at State University of New York at Buffalo, tells WebMD that he agrees entirely with the findings of the study. Schünemann is author of a study in the September issue of CHEST that suggests that lung function is highly predictive of long-term survival in the general population. Schünemann reports on 29 years of follow-up of patients enrolled in the Buffalo Health Study.

"We found similar results in a different population -- both men and women -- but the important message is that survival can be improved if the person quits smoking," says Schünemann. "We have known for a long time that if smokers quit it will slow the decline in lung function. There is a natural decline with age but smoking worsens that decline. These data from the [Finnish study] demonstrated that the decline can be slowed."

Schünemann says the study from Finland as well as his study underline the importance of lung function tests. "These can be done in a [doctor's] office using a handheld device," says Schünemann. "For things like life insurance or employment physicals or even annual checkups, the lung function should be included."

For smokers, he says, this lung function test is especially important because "you can give them a number. You can say to the smoker, 'See this is your lung function. If your lung function doesn't improve, your risk of dying is this percentage.'" In his paper Schünemann reported that people whose lung function was in the lowest 20% were more than twice as likely to have a fatal heart attack as persons who had better lung function scores.

 

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