It’s no secret that tobacco smoke can be deadly. It is strongly linked to cancer, stroke, heart disease and pulmonary issues, among other serious and deadly ailments.
Among adults, cigarette smoking continues to decline in the United States, down from 20% in 2005 to 14% in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The risk of dying from cigarette smoking has not decreased, however, and 1 in 5 deaths is estimated to be attributed to smoking.
One reason the death rate has not declined as dramatically is that tobacco addiction is tough to break. For some, quitting became even more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people faced greater stress. During the pandemic, tobacco sales actually increased by 13%, after years of decline.
Even as overall smoking rates have declined, the rate has hardly budged among those 65 and older over the last decade. Nearly 9 percent of adults aged 65 and older were regular smokers in 2020, meaning more than 4 million older adults could benefit from kicking the habit.
That said, several common misconceptions about smoking and older adults persist. Eliminating these may be an essential step in helping long-time smokers quit once and for all.
Misconception 1: After smoking for decades, quitting won’t make much of a difference to someone’s health.
Truth: Quitting smoking at any time in life slows down the lung damage caused by smoking, and people who quit at 65 are likely to live longer than those who continue to smoke. Additionally, stopping smoking can benefit most major parts of your body – including improving blood flow to help wounds heal properly, and even help keep hearing and night vision sharp.
Misconception 2: Older smokers have a more difficult time quitting than younger smokers.
Truth: While older smokers are less likely to attempt quitting, studies show they are more likely to be successful than younger smokers when they do attempt to quit. That doesn’t mean smoking is necessarily easier to quit as people get older, but age itself shouldn’t be an obstacle.
Misconception 3: Changes in an older smoker’s lifestyle make it harder to quit.
Truth: Older smokers are often making major changes in their lives, from retiring to downsizing their home to making room in their lives for grandchildren. These changes often trigger natural shifts in perspectives and behaviors that can be useful in quitting. The prospect of babysitting a new grandchild or visiting a long-awaited vacation destination can be a powerful motivator to put away cigarettes for good.
Misconception 4: Older smokers have a harder time finding support to help them quit.
Truth: Medicare covers eight smoking and tobacco-use cessation counseling sessions every 12 months at no cost to individuals as long they visit a Medicare-participating provider. In addition, Medicare Part D and many Medicare Advantage plans with prescription drug coverage will cover medications that can help with nicotine withdrawal, providing extra help to battle cravings. There are also many apps, texting programs and other resources free to those who are ready to stop smoking or quit tobacco use.
What’s more, smokers may be able to receive telehealth support for smoking cessation — which may be a convenient, effective way to get the help they need to quit for good, from the comfort of home.
Research not only shows that people can still reap health benefits when they quit later in life, but also that once an older person has made up their mind to quit, they have a good chance of success.
The length of a person’s habit shouldn’t be a deterrent. A smoke-free life can be achieved at any age.