"I've smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years—what's the use of quitting now?"
If you quit smoking, you are likely to add years to your life, breathe more easily, enjoy food more, and save money. Whether you are young or old, you will also:
Smoking can shorten your life. Smoking makes millions of Americans sick by causing:
Nicotine is a drug in tobacco that makes tobacco products addictive. People become addicted to nicotine. That's one reason why the first few weeks after quitting are the hardest. Some people who give up smoking have withdrawal symptoms. They may become grumpy, hungry, or tired. Some people have headaches, feel depressed, or have problems sleeping or concentrating. Some people have no withdrawal symptoms.
Josephine remembers she started smoking in high school because she wanted to be part of the "cool" crowd. That was more than 50 years ago. Now, she wishes she had never started. She has trouble breathing, many of her clothes have burns from cigarette ash, and even worse, her grandchildren complain she smells like smoke. She wonders if she'll be able to stop after all these years.
Many people say the first step to stop smoking is to make a firm decision to quit and pick a definite date you will stop. Then make a clear plan for how you will stick to it.
Your plan might include:
Find what works best for you. Some people say that using many approaches to quitting is the answer.
Miguel joined the Navy right after college. He thought smoking made him look older. Pretty soon he was hooked. Now, at 61, the doctor has told him he has emphysema and needs to stop smoking. His wife and children want him to stop, too. He wonders what can help him with withdrawal symptoms.
When you quit, you may need support to cope with your body's desire for nicotine. Nicotine replacement therapy can help some smokers quit. You can buy nicotine replacement products like chewing gum, patches, or lozenges over-the-counter.
There are also nicotine replacement products that require a doctor's prescription. A nicotine nasal spray or inhaler can reduce withdrawal symptoms, and make it easier for you to quit smoking. Other drugs can also be helpful with some of the withdrawal symptoms not caused by nicotine. Talk to your doctor about what medicines would be the best for you.
Some people think smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff), pipes, and cigars are safe. They are not. Using smokeless tobacco can cause cancer of the mouth, pre-cancerous lesions known as oral leukoplakia, nicotine addiction, and possibly cancer of the larynx and esophagus, as well as gum problems. Pipe and cigar smokers may develop cancer of the mouth, lip, larynx, esophagus, and bladder. Those who inhale are also at increased risk of getting lung cancer.
Smokers create secondhand smoke, which can cause health problems for everyone exposed to the smoke. Secondhand smoke is very dangerous for people who have lung conditions or heart disease. It may cause bronchitis, pneumonia, an asthma attack, or lung cancer. In babies and young children, it can cause inner ear infections.
The good news is that after you quit:
No matter how old you are, all of these health benefits are important reasons for you to think about making a plan to stop smoking.
Clyde's doctor told him he needed to quit smoking. Then, when his 16-year-old granddaughter asked him to stop smoking, he decided to try. Whenever he felt the urge to smoke, he ate nuts or chewed gum instead. Sometimes, he would take a fast walk until the urge to smoke passed. The walk had the added benefit of helping him lose some weight. A year later, he's proud of his success and his granddaughter's smile makes it all worthwhile.
Here are some helpful resources:
American Cancer Society
250 Williams Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30303
American Heart Association
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX 75231
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Office on Smoking and Health
4770 Buford Highway
Atlanta, GA 30341-3717
1-800-232-4636 (toll free)
1-888-232-6348 (TTY/toll free)
National Cancer Institute
Public Inquiries Office
6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
Bethesda, MD 20892-8322
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Health Information Center
Bethesda, MD 20824-0105
National Library of Medicine
For more information about health and aging, contact:
To sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information from the NIA, go to www.nia.nih.gov/health.
Visit NIHSeniorHealth (www.nihseniorhealth.gov), a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to have the text read out loud or to make the type larger.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
U. S. Department of Health and Human Services
Publication Date: July 2010
Page Last Updated: November 11, 2011