Living the good life healthily A new study says that if women quit smoking before the age of 30, they could almost completely reverse the impact of tobacco, while those aged forty could stand to add at least ten years to their life.

It may surprise you to learn that, in both the US and the UK, smoking ranks higher than obesity as the leading cause of preventable deaths.

This fact has spurred UK researchers, funded by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council, into one of the most extensive studies ever undertaken into the effects of smoking and, crucially, the benefits of quitting.

To do this, a team of researchers led by professor Richard Peto of the University of Oxford recruited 1.3 million female participants aged between 50 to 65. This age group was necessary for one important reason: they were the first generation who smoked sustainably through to the modern day and in a way comparable to today’s smoking habits.

In a review beginning in 1996 and lasting until 2001, the scientists set out to track the lives of the 1.2 million women who were viable for the study to see what prolonged smoking did to their health and also whether the benefits of quitting smoking would be as pronounced as had been hoped.

The study, published in the Lancet, contained some eye-opening and encouraging findings.

Of the 1.2 million women in the sample, 20 per cent were smokers, 28 per cent had quit, and 52 per cent had never smoked.

It is important to note that 66,000 in the study died by 2011. Due to the United Kingdom’s national health service, each woman’s medical history was recorded as each participant’s cause of death, meaning the data could also be incorporated into the study’s findings.

The researchers showed that women who had smoked cigarettes throughout their adult lives were three times more likely to have died than non-smokers.

Furthermore, those who smoked throughout their adult lives were more likely to suffer and die of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. It is important to note that even those who considered themselves light smokers, smoking less than ten cigarettes a day, were twice as likely to die early compared to non-smokers.

Quitting before middle age, however, dramatically reduced that risk.

Women who stopped before 30 years of age were shown to have only a tiny (5 per cent) increased risk of death compared to non-smokers. Women who quit before they were fifty had a 56 per cent increased risk of dying compared with non-smokers. However, this group still showed a 72 per cent decrease in mortality rates compared to those associated with smoking.

The impact of quitting observed in the study was made stark in the study’s conclusion:

Among UK women, two-thirds of all deaths of smokers in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are caused by smoking; smokers lose at least ten years of lifespan. Although the hazards of smoking until age 40 and stopping are substantial, the risks of continuing are ten times greater. Stopping before age 40 (and preferably well before age 40) avoids more than 90% of the excess mortality caused by continuing smoking; stopping before age 30 avoids more than 97% of it.

Overall, those who quit smoking could stand to add ten years or more to their lives than those who would continue to smoke throughout their adult life.

What to take from this study, then?

This study cannot definitively prove that smoking, or quitting smoking, caused the health outcomes observed. While the scientists were careful to control as much as possible for other factors that might have impacted participants’ health, that kind of conclusion would be overstating the findings.

However, given that the link between smoking and several diseases has already been established and that an increased mortality rate among smokers is already well-evidenced, this study reinforces what we already know about smoking-related risks.

The study also points out that quitting smoking could add years to your life. While having never started at all would have been preferable, it isn’t too late to stop and have a meaningful impact not only on the number of years you will live but, importantly, the quality of life you will also enjoy in your later years.

Even though this study was undertaken in the UK, the chances are high that it will apply to Australia. If a study were done in the Capalaba, Redlands and Cleveland, the events of the statistics found in the UK would be the same. It makes sense to quit smoking and ensure you can live a life of vitality and longevity.

About Steve Gardiner

Stephen Gardiner originates from Rhodesia, (Zimbabwe) then working around the globe before finally settling in Brisbane Australia. As a scientist, Steve always had an interest in human development, especially Mind Plastisicity and how we cope with stress, anxiety and addictive behaviours. Over the past 15 years Steve has assisted many clients to transform their lives by resolving the obstacles holding them back.

Entries by Steve Gardiner