Scientists recommend that smoking cessation programs focus on older adults.

Researchers have found a new reason for older smokers to quit, which is good news for American seniors, who have the highest smoking rates of any U.S. generation.

Scientists at the German Cancer Research Center found that older smokers can reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke by more than 40 percent within five years after their last cigarette.

“We were able to show that the risk of smokers for cardiovascular diseases is more than twice that of non-smokers,” said professor Hermann Brenner in a statement. “However, former smokers are affected at almost the same low rate as people of the same age who never smoked.”

The scientists examined data on more than 8,000 individuals between the ages of 50 and 74. Brenner and colleagues determined that a 60-year-old smoker has the same risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) as a 79-year-old non-smoker and the same risk of stroke as a 69-year-old non-smoker.

Study participants had not suffered a heart attack or stroke prior to the start of the study. In their evaluation, researchers took into account the effects of other factors, such as age, gender, alcohol consumption, education level, and physical exercise habits, as well as participants’ blood pressure, diabetes status, cholesterol levels, height, and weight.

This study shows that the positive effects of smoking cessation appear within a short period of time, suggesting that smoking cessation programs that have concentrated on younger participants up to now should include more outreach to seniors as well.

Older smokers face many hurdles in their quest to quit. They tend to be heavier smokers and are significantly less likely than younger smokers to believe that smoking harms their health, according to the American Lung Association.

The average smoker tries to quit six times before he or she successfully stops smoking, according to New York Presbyterian Hospital. But the chances of successfully quitting increase from five percent to 40 percent with the help of supportive programs and medication.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and death among Americans. It causes many different cancers, as well as chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and heart disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.