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It’s Not Too Late to Quit Smoking

a happy African American couple with heads together

Cigarette smoking causes almost one-third (30%) of all cancer deaths in the U.S. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to quit, and the sooner the better. Quitting is rewarding no matter how old you are or if you have health problems. 

And the benefits are almost immediate. People who have quit smoking have fewer illnesses such as colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia, and tend to feel healthier than people who still smoke. Just 20 minutes after quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. In just 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. In as little as 2 weeks to 3 months, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.

Nearly everyone knows that smoking can cause lung cancer, but fewer people realize it is linked to a higher risk for many other kinds of cancers, too. Besides lowering the risk for certain cancers, quitting smoking also lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke, and chronic lung disease.

If you have cancer

If you've already been diagnosed with cancer or another significant health problem, quitting smoking often makes it more likely the treatment will be successful and that you'll have fewer side effects or complications from treatment.

But a study by American Cancer Society researchers found that about 1 in 10 cancer survivors still reports smoking about 9 years after a diagnosis. Lead author Lee Westmaas, PhD, American Cancer Society director of tobacco control research, says doctors and health care providers must continue to ask survivors about their smoking and provide resources, including medications and counseling, to help them quit. And if your health care provider doesn't ask you about quitting, says Westmaas, you should do the asking. It could be the first step toward getting the help you need.

If you're a caregiver and you smoke, Westmaas says you may be able to help a cancer patient by quitting yourself. In another study, Westmaas and colleagues from the American Cancer Society found that cancer patients and survivors were more likely to keep smoking if they lived in the same household with another person who smokes.

Quitting when you’re older

According to the National Cancer Institute, being older creates both challenges and advantages when it comes to quitting.

  • The challenges: It's likely you've tried to quit before, maybe even more than once. Knowing how hard it is may make you feel discouraged about trying again. And if you’ve been smoking for a long time, it may be so much a part of everyday life, it’s hard to imagine quitting.
  • The advantages: Older adults have some strengths that younger people may not have, and they are strengths that can help them quit. Over their lifetimes, they have had lots of experience accomplishing difficult tasks. At this point in their lives, they are likely to be better prepared to quit smoking than when they were younger. They know quitting is tough, and they know it won’t be easy, so once they decide to try again, they may be more willing to work at it to make sure they succeed.
  • The immediate benefits: Soon after quitting you’ll notice your breath smells better, stained teeth get whiter, food tastes better, and everyday activities like climbing stairs might not leave you out of breath as much. You’ll also be protecting your loved ones from the dangers of secondhand smoke. And smoking is expensive. Calculate how much money you spend each month on cigarettes for extra motivation to quit.

The Great American Smokeout®

Quitting smoking isn’t easy. It takes time. And a plan. You don’t have to stop smoking in one day. Start with day one. Let the Great American Smokeout event on November 19th be your day to start your journey toward a smoke-free life. You’ll be joining thousands of people who smoke across the country in taking an important step toward a healthier life and reducing your cancer risk. Plus, the American Cancer Society can help you access the resources and support you need to quit.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.