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Quit Smoking Before Age 35 to Regain Health

Kicking Habit for at Least 15 Years Before Middle Age Can Lead to Longer, Healthier Life

Suffering Overrides Death as Motivator

An interesting footnote from Ostbye's study, done with fellow Duke researcher Donald Taylor, PhD: "In doing focus groups with these people, my co-author discovered that people worry less about dying earlier from smoking than they do about being disabled or in a poor state of health because of smoking," says Ostbye. "So perhaps the public health measures shouldn't be on death resulting from smoking, but rather on being able to live a healthier life from not smoking."

That's important because smokers of different ages typically have different motivations for wanting to quit.

"We find that older people are usually more successful in quitting, probably because they have tried more over time, and we know there's sort of a learning process that goes on -- people who quit for a piece of time and then relapse are more likely to successfully quit the next time out," says Doug Jorenby, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and director of clinical services for its Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention.

Usually, Quitting Comes Too Late

"But with all the progress made in last couple of decades in helping people quit, the single best motivator is having a serious health problem caused by smoking," he tells WebMD. "Younger people in their 20s or early 30s are more likely to be motivated by the cost of smoking and the social impact smoking has on them; they feel like outcasts, and frankly, smoking becomes inconvenient."

That's why he believes Ostbye's study is important. If anything, he says, the life-threatening aspects of smoking can turn people fatalistic, and they figure that they'll just die anyway.

"We have to be better at educating people on the tremendous ability the body has to heal itself when given the chance," says Jorenby. "That's why you love to see people who are smart and quit in their 20s or early 30s because not only do they minimize their exposure, but they have the maximum ability to heal any damage smoking has done to them at that point."

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