What's the Best Age to Stop Smoking? Study Offers Clue

Lisa O'Mary

October 26, 2022

Smokers who quit before age 35 showed a complete "reversal of risk" when compared to people who never smoked, according to a new national study.

Researchers also quantified the benefit of quitting for those older than 35. The added risk of death associated with smoking was reduced by:

  • 90% for those who quit before age 45

  • 66% for those who quit at ages 45 to 64

"The distal nature of the health consequences for young smokers is a challenge for professionals trying to motivate quitting in younger age groups. Without a proximal goal, it is tempting for smokers to abandon a quit attempt with cognitions such as 'I don't really need to do it just now,'" John P. Pierce, PhD, director for Population Sciences at UC-San Diego's Moores Cancer Center, wrote in a commentary.

Current smokers were twice as likely to die from any cause during the study compared to the group researchers called "never smokers," who were defined as smoking fewer than 100 lifetime cigarettes.

Published Monday in JAMA Network Open, the study involved 551,388 U.S. participants using information collected by the CDC from 1997 to 2018. Researchers collected data for specific causes of death of participants through the end of 2019.

The results echo past findings but also established whether demographic factors such as a smoker's race and gender impact the benefits of quitting. (In many areas of health research, a person's race or gender is associated with varying risks.)

The researchers found that the benefits of quitting smoking in reducing risk of death are comparable across demographic groups.

"Among former smokers in each racial and ethnic group, whether male or female, quitting was associated with reductions of approximately 80% of the excess mortality associated with continued smoking," the authors stated. "These associations were generally consistent for deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and lower respiratory disease."

The findings are also important for guiding stop-smoking efforts because while smoking nationwide has decreased, the reduction has varied across demographic groups.

"Monitoring the association of smoking with mortality by race, ethnicity, and sex is critical to understanding how the U.S. tobacco epidemic continues to evolve over time and who is most affected by the changes," the authors stated. "Despite continued decreases in U.S. smoking prevalence in recent decades progress has not been equal across demographic groups. Recent progress in raising the quit ratio among U.S. ever smokers overall has been modest, and the quit ratio has been consistently lower among Black and Hispanic ever smokers than among non-Hispanic White ever smokers."


JAMA Network Open: "Quitting Smoking by Age 35 Years—A Goal for Reducing Mortality," "Association Between Smoking, Smoking Cessation, and Mortality by Race, Ethnicity, and Sex Among US Adults."


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