How Smoking Cigarettes Affects Young vs. Older Smokers
The ultimate health effects of smoking are the same for everyone, whether it is a teen or young adult who has just picked up the habit—or whether it is an older, hard-core, nicotine addict. However, the length of time a person has smoked does make a difference in terms of how these health effects manifest themselves, as well as upon the risk of mortality. Obviously, a 50-year old who has smoked for 30 years and has smoker's bronchitis is at greater risk of having a cold turn into pneumonia than a 20-year old who has only been smoking for 2 years and is in otherwise in good health.
Whatever the age of the smoker, there is no question that smoking cigarettes is potentially lethal, both for the smoker and for those who inhale the resulting second hand smoke. The risks are the same, but the perspective on those risks is different for young versus older smokers. But either way, if you smoke, it is never too early or too late to think about quitting. I have known people who finally quit only after they had developed serious COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and were tethered to an oxygen line. Trust me—you don't want that to be you.
Sobering Facts for Young Smokers
Young smokers, only recently hooked, often think they will quit in a few years, or when they go to college, or get married, or have children, or when they turn 40 or some other time in the future. They think that they have time before the effects of smoking catch up with them. The fact is that decisions made when one is young cast a very long shadow. To wit:
- The majority of young people who smoke regularly continue to smoke throughout adulthood with serious resulting health risks
- Smoking not only produces a lower level of lung function in young people, it also reduces the rate of lung growth in young people
- Smoking definitely causes heart disease. The connection is quite clear. Even in young smokers who have not had the habit long,resting heart rates are two to three beats per minute faster than nonsmokers.
- On average, a non smoker lives seven years longer than a smoker. The difference is even greater for those who begin smoking in their teen years
- There is some indication l that those who start to smoke before the brain has completely finished growing, have a much harder time quitting and are more thoroughly addicted than those who start smoking after age 20.
- Smoking at an early age increases the risk of lung cancer. For most smoking-related cancers, the risk rises as the individual continues to smoke.
- According to the World Health Organization Teenage smokers suffer from shortness of breath almost three times as often as teens who don't smoke, and produce phlegm more than twice as often as teens who don't smoke. and are more likely to have seen a doctor or other health professionals for an emotional or psychological complaint
Here are some sobering facts from the blog Smoking Facts.Net on the subject of teen smoking.
- 20 percent of American teens smoke and the bulk of first use occurs before high school graduation. Kids smoke despite the knowledge that smoking is addictive and leads to disease.
- Adolescent girls who smoke and take oral birth control pills greatly increase their chances of having blood clots and strokes. In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control, teenagers who smoke are more likely to use alcohol, marijuana and cocaine and here is the kicker: more than ninety percent of adult smokers started when they were teens.
Facts for Older Smokers
Most older smokers who are still puffing away on more than one or two cigarettes a week are doing so not because they want to, but because they have to. Most have tried in vain to quit and many have settled for disgruntled denial. They are like outlaws holed up in a box canyon, hoarding their Marlboros and trying to make it out alive.
There has been a sea change in public opinion since these folks (and I was one of them) started to smoke. Back in the day, smoking was cool, hip and far from being considered dangerous, was touted as a way to calm the nerves, an aid to digestion and a tool for weight loss.
Just have a look at Hollywood movies from the 1930s and '40's-- people are lighting up every few seconds.In the mid 1960s more than half the adult male population of the United States smoked, and while many in this generation have now stopped, and many more have died from smoking related illnesses, the remainder who are still puffing away are quite defensive about it and resistant to quitting.
According to The American Lung Association, the consequences of smoking are even more dire for older smokers than for young ones for three reasons. First, older smokers have been smoking longer, plus they tend to smoke more heavily and to be more resistant to the notion that their smoking has anything to do with their health.
Here are a few facts just for older smokers on what lies ahead and the possible stages of death by smoking, courtesy of the American Lung Association. The facts are stunning.
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), aka emphysema and chronic bronchitis, takes years to develop but is almost entirely confined to smokers or former smokers. Smoking is directly responsible for more than 90 percent of COPD deaths.
- The link to lung cancer is proven and irrefutable. 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in women and men, respectively can be traced to cigarette smoking, and older smokers are more at risk than younger ones for this fatal disease.
- Smoking is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke and lower respiratory tract infections which are all leading causes of death in people over 50.
- Cigarette smokers have a far greater chance of developing dementia of any kind including Alzheimer's disease compared to nonsmokers
- Smokers also have two to three times the risk of developing cataracts, the leading cause of blindness and visual loss, as nonsmokers.
Hope for Older Smokers
If you are reading this and are an older smoker, I can just imagine the meat hook in your tum tum as you read the above facts. You tell yourself either that it won't happen to you because aunt Suzie lived to be 96 and she smoked a pack a day till the day she died, or you know you cannot quit because you have tried and failed and you just figure you are doomed and you are pissed at me for pointing out the bad news you don't want to hear. You hope against hope you will dodge the bullet. Well, fine. But if you want to even think about trying again to quit--read on.
- Quitting smoking has proven health benefits, even at a late age. When an older person quits smoking, circulation improves immediately, and the lungs begin to repair damage. In one year, the added risk of heart disease is cut almost in half, and risk of stroke, lung disease, and cancer also diminish.
- Among smokers who quit at age 65, men gained 1.4 to 2.0 years of life and women gained 2.7 to 3.4 years..
- A study found that middle-aged smokers and former smokers with mild or moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease breathed easier after quitting. Note to older women smokers--after one year the women in the study who quit smoking had 2 times more improvement in lung function compared with the men who quit.
- There is strong evidence that smoking cessation ,even late in life ,not only adds years , but also improves quality of life.
It has pretty well been proven that just cutting down on cigarettes, but not quitting entirely, does not reduce mortality risks from tobacco-related diseases. It's an all or nothing deal at any age. You quit or you smoke. There is no in-between.
The Bottom Line for Both Young and Old Smokers
The bottom line is that there will never be a better time to quit than now—whatever your age or however much you smoke. The risks of smoking are the same in the end for both young and old. It will kill you. If you are okay with that, that's fine. But if you think you deserve better, think about quitting, whether you are at the beginning or near the end of your smoking history. The question is not can you do it. Rather, the question is, do you want to?