Several new studies, out this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that the risks of smoking for women have been underestimated for decades.
Risks for female smokers weren’t completely clear, apparently because not enough women had been consistently smoking for a long enough period of time. Now that there’s a generation of women who have been smoking since about 1960, doctors and researchers have a greater understanding of what five decades of smoking does to the female body.
According to NPR:
In the 1980s, it looked like women who smoked were about 13 times more likely to die from lung cancer than women who never did. But one new analysis finds that female smokers are more than 26 times more likely to die of lung cancer than nonsmoking women — twice the rate calculated 30 years ago.
Researchers found that long-term smoking essentially cuts the chance of living to the age of 80 in half. Dr. Prabhat Jha of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto said:
What we found in studying over 220,000 adult Americans is that smoking leads to the loss of about a decade of life.
Well, nothing particularly surprising there to me, but these studies also found out more about the very real benefits of quitting: a long-term smoker who quits before turning 40 can gain back up to nine years of his or life, almost as if he or she had never smoked at all. Dr. Jha says:
It’s a very encouraging message. If you think about the average 45-year-old smoker in the United States, they probably started when they were age 15. They might be smoking for a quarter of a century. And they might think, ‘Oh, it’s too late. There’s no point for me to quit because the damage is done.’ But that’s not true.
That is certainly encouraging information, but Dr. Nancy Rigotti, who runs smoking cessation programs at Massachusetts General Hospital says that, ”A lot of young women think, ‘I can smoke until I get pregnant,’ and people say, ‘I can smoke until I’m 40.’ But it’s certainly easier to quit earlier rather than later.”
If you’re still somehow justifying your smoking habit (It relieves stress! It’s only a couple times a week! I smoke organic cigarettes!) know this: quitting can literally add years to your life. And, as Dr. Rigotti says,
“I’m going to tell my patients that quitting is really important. They should be thinking about it now, but also that it’s never too late to quit.”