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Study: It's Never Too Late to Quit Smoking

Smokers aged 60 and older reduce their excess risk of dying by about one-quarter once they quit the habit, according to a new analysis.
It's never too late to quit smoking, according to a new analysis of thousands of smokers, which finds people over 60 who give up the habit have a reduced risk of death.

Smoking is a known risk factor for many diseases, including many forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease. But most studies on the health effects of smoking involve middle-aged people.

The latest analysis by German researchers looked at the health impacts of smoking in those over the age of 60.

Researchers combed through the findings of 17 studies carried out in the U.S., China, Australia, Japan, England, Spain and France between 1987 and 2011.

They found that, compared to those who had never smoked, smokers 60 and older had an 83 percent increased risk of dying from all causes. They had a 34 percent higher risk of death compared to former smokers.

T.H. Lam, a professor at the School of Public Health at The University of Hong Kong, says people who continue to smoke as seniors have at least a one-in-two chance of dying from their habit. Lam calls those who don't die of their habit "survivors."

But according to the study's findings, Lam says it's not too late for them to quit either.

"If they stop smoking, then they can reduce about one-quarter of their excess risk," Lam says. "So this is good news that older people should not continue to smoke. They should quit smoking as soon as possible."

Smokers who start at a young age and manage to quit in their thirties, can reduce their risk of dying of a smoking-related illness almost to that of someone who's never smoked.

The problem, says Lam, is many older smokers don't see any point or feel an urgency to quit.

"Because they can think ..why not tomorrow or why not next year? But, of course, even for a smoker with lung cancer, if they stop smoking their treatment progress would be better."

It's estimated smoking claims the lives of 12 percent of all men and six percent of women worldwide. Experts say if current smoking trends continue, the habit will be responsible for one billion deaths by the end of the 21st century.