A Year of Smoking Takes 3 Months Off Your Life

Last Friday (July 6th) a new paper was published in the British Medical Journal by two British experts on smoking cessation: Dr Paul Aveyard and Professor Robert West. That paper primarily aimed to inform health professionals of the best ways to help their patients quit smoking. While the report contained many points that readers of this blog will be familiar with, there were a few new points (for me anyway) that are worth highlighting.

The first thing that struck me was the statement that, “Every year that smoking cessation is postponed after the age of 40 reduces life expectancy by three months.” Although the health effects of smoking are many and varied, that simple statement summarizes the evidence in a simple but impactful way. You might ask, “So what is that based on?” The citation for the statement is the 50-year follow-up study of 40,000 male British doctors, published by Sir Richard Doll and colleagues. That study found that although smokers who quit by age 35-40 were likely to live about as long as never smokers, those who continued to smoke typically died 10 years younger than never smokers. Someone who quits at age 35 is therefore likely to live to be around 85, whereas if that person continues to smoke they are more likely to die at around 75. So if that extra 40 years of smoking costs you 10 years of life, that’s consistent with losing 3 months for every year of smoking.

The authors also presented some data on the likelihood of a person succeeding in quiting smoking by age 50, assuming they try once a year starting at age 35. If the smoker just tries on their own each year, without any special assistance, there’s about a 50% chance they’ll be quit by age 50. If they use an FDA-approved smoking cessation medication each quit attempt (e.g. nicotine replacement or Chantix), there’s about a 75% chance they’ll be quit by age 50. If they use an approved cessation medication and get specialist counseling with each quit attempt, there’s about a 95% chance they will have succeeded in quitting, for good by age 50.

Now, given that by delaying success in quitting smoking from age 35 to 50 will already have cost a few years in life expectancy, I’d advise all smokers to go directly for the most effective treatment (counseling plus meds), and if it doesn’t work first time just keep trying until it does. If you use recommended treatment and keep trying to quit, the chances are very high you’ll succeed in quitting for good within the next 15 years.

The Aveyard and West paper can be downloaded from:

Best of luck.
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About the Author

MA, MAppSci, PhD

Dr. Jonathan Foulds is an expert in the field of tobacco addiction.