Cigarette smoking kills approximately 300,000 in the United States each year, and most of these people are seniors. Lung cancer and emphysema are the best-known miserable outcomes. However, accelerated development of atherosclerosis is the most important problem resulting from smoking. This results in heart attacks and strokes, heart pains, leg pains, and many other problems. Pipe and cigar smoking do not have the pulmonary consequences that cigarette smoking does, but they do predispose to cancer of the lips, and tongue. Nicotine in any form has the same bad effects on the small blood vessels and thus accelerates development of atherosclerosis.
It is never too late to quit. Only two years after stopping cigarette smoking, your risk of heart attack returns to average. It has actually decreased substantially the very next day! After ten years your risk for lung cancer is back to nearly normal. After only two years there is a decrease in lung cancer risk by perhaps one-third. The development of emphysema is arrested for many people when they stop smoking, although this condition does not reverse.
Seniors often feel that it is too late for changes in lifestyle to have beneficial effects on their health. Not so. Most seniors have plenty of time to get major health benefits from quitting smoking. Remember that after age 65 men live an average of 15.4 more years and women 19.2 years. Chances of stroke and heart attack begin to go down immediately after you quit. Moreover, you will notice at once that your environment has become more friendly when you are not a smoker. Many of the daily hassles that impair the quality of your life go away when you stop offending others by this habit.
There are many good stop-smoking courses offered through the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and local hospitals. Most people won’t need these, but they can be of help. Try by yourself first. Then, if you still need help, get it. Nicotine chewing gum or patches can help some people quit, and your doctor can give you a prescription and advice. Don’t plan on this as a long-term solution, since the nicotine in the gum or patch is just as bad for your arteries as the nicotine in cigarettes.
Many health educators are skeptical about cutting down slowly and stress that you need to stop completely. This may not always be true for seniors. For some people, rationing is a good way to get their smoking down to a much lower level, at which point it may be easier to stop entirely. For example, the simple decision not to smoke in public can both help your health and decrease your daily hassles. To cut down, keep in the cigarette pack only those cigarettes you are going to allow yourself that day. Smoke the cigarettes only halfway down before extinguishing them.
The challenge to stop smoking is an example of your ability to make your own choices if you are trapped by your addictions, even the lesser ones, you can’t make your own choices. Victory over smoking behaviors improves your mental health, in part because this is a difficult victory. It can open the door to success in other areas.