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How Soon Do Smokers Benefit from Quitting?

A careful study shows that smokers benefit from quitting. It may be more than a decade, though, before their risk of heart attacks drops to normal.
Stop smoking cigarettes concept. Beautiful smiling girl holding broken cigarette in hands. Happy female quitting smoking cigarettes. Quit bad habit, health care concept. No smoking.

Ask any health professional what you should do to stay healthy, and you’ll hear the advice: Don’t smoke! If you do smoke, quit! It should come as no surprise to learn that heavy smokers are more likely to experience cardiovascular disease as well as emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a wide range of cancers. This information has been public knowledge for more than half a century. There is general agreement that smokers benefit from quitting.

How Much Do Smokers Benefit from Quitting?

Many people who smoke find it difficult to give up tobacco. Nicotine addiction can be hard to overcome. So just how much difference does it make for smokers to quit? And how long does it take for their cardiovascular risk to drop to baseline?

Is Five Years Enough Time?

Most cardiovascular risk calculators assume that five years after quitting, a former smoker is at pretty much the same cardiovascular risk as people who never smoked. However, a new study published in JAMA suggests the story is not quite so simple (JAMA, Aug. 20, 2019). Although smokers benefit from quitting, the time frame may be quite extended.

To determine the link between quitting and subsequent cardiovascular health, researchers analyzed data from participants in the Framingham Heart Study. These 8770 individuals were followed up for more than two decades.

The investigators found that people who quit smoking did have a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes or heart failure after five years than people who continued to smoke. However, their risk was still considerably higher than those who never smoked. It took about 15 years before their risk was as low as that of non-smokers. In summary, unquestionably smokers benefit from quitting. Sooner is better, though, as it may take more than a decade to get the full value of not smoking.

How Will You Quit Smoking?

If your doctor offers a prescription for varenicline (Chantix), you may well want to consider trying it. However, be sure you are well-informed about the potential risks as well as the benefits before you start taking it.

Keep in mind that Chantix is not the only option to help you take this important step. Our late friend Tom Ferguson, MD, author of the No-Nag, No-Guilt, Do-It-Your-Own-Way Guide to Quitting Smoking, would say that you should do what you think is best for you, on your own timeline. If you don’t succeed the first time, keep trying. After all, the research shows that smokers benefit from quitting more than anything else they do for their health. It also shows that people may need to quit several times before they can maintain non-smoking status. Good luck!

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Duncan MS et al, "Association of smoking cessation with subsequent risk of cardiovascular disease." JAMA, Aug. 20, 2019. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.10298
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I smoked 3 packs of unfiltered cigarettes for 11 years. I quit over 50 years ago, and I would not be alive now if I had not quit. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever accomplished: I had divine assistance.

After 7-8 years of smoking 1-2 packs a day, I finally quit in 1975. I decided to buy one more pack and make it last a week. I borrowed a few smokes along the way, but by the end of two weeks, I was done. I have never smoked again, and I believe if I hadn’t quit, I likely wouldn’t be typing this. You do not need drugs to quit smoking. All you need is a brain, some honest thought, coming to the realization that over time you are destroying your health and asking yourself what benefits you enjoy from continuing to smoke. There are no cures for lung cancer, so why give cancer a head start?

I smoked for 5 years as a teenager, quitting for good at age 20. I am now a healthy 76, without any sign of the diseases and conditions associated with smoking. However, my mother smoked for a number of years from her 20s until about 48, before quitting. So, despite being off ciggies for so long, she developed COPD and heart failure in her 80s and passed at 90. Yes, she lived long, but she suffered unnecessarily from what her doctors said were most likely the after-effects of those 28 years of smoking. Smoking diminished her quality of life, unlike her mother and aunt, who lived to 98 and 103 without major illness. Looking back via genealogy, the matriarchal longevity in my family is amazing, with most of the females living into their 90s and 100s unless taken by injury. Mom was the only one we know of who had smoked and the only one to suffer it’s illnesses. I can only hope I quit in time.

My advice, which may be too late for many, is don’t smoke at all, ever. Quitting has many benefits , but as the studies show, smoking’s worse effects may not be reversible.

Personal report on having now been diagnosed with early form of COPD after 18 yrs not smoking. Was 53 when I quit and am now 71. For me, the pre existing damage did not go away. But must say that had I not quit I do not think I be typing this message today. The many suggestion I have learned from this show have improved my life tremendously. Thank you.

I appreciate reading Home and Herbal Remedies. Thank you, Terry Graedon for all the informative articles you post. Using food for many physical conditions instead of drugs is so much better. Drugs are important if needed but natural remedies are preferred.

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