According to a recent press release at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), individuals who smoke are at considerable risk of mortality, regardless of their age. Until recently, thorough epidemiological studies had not been conducted to determine the relationship between smoking in older generations and mortality risks. However, researchers claim that individuals who survive to 70 years of age are still at risk, and will lose many years of life.
Two research scientists, Dr. Jonathan Emberson and Dr. Robert Clark seized the opportunity to track the health and lifestyles of elderly males, between the age of 66 and 97; 7,000 of these individuals were taken from a population of subjects that took part in a Whitehall study of civil servants from London.
The study calculated what it classified as hazard ratios for each member of the studied population, and factored into the equation the degree to which smoking impacted a subject’s mortality. These results were adjusted to reflect a variety of factors, including an individual’s age, employment status and clinical history of cancer and vascular disease.
Overall, more than 70% of the participants died during the study, which lasted a duration of 15 years, representing a figure of 5,000 men. The two researchers found a hazard ratio of 1.5 for smokers, which denotes a 50% higher death rate in smokers, relative to their non-smoking counterparts.
The main health pathologies that led to these deaths included vascular disease, cancer and respiratory dysfunction, which had hazard ratios of 1.34, 1.74 and 2.39, respectively.
The Impact of Cigarette Smoking
Smoking is thought to harm virtually every organ of the body, elevating a smoker’s mortality risk considerably. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking accounts for over 440,000 deaths, annually, in the United States alone.
The harmful effects of smoking have been well-documented. The following is a narrow list of just a small selection of pathologies that plague smokers:
- Coronary heart disease
- Chronic obstructive lung disease
- Infertility and reproductive issues
- Lower bone density
Smoking, Cancer and the Cardiovascular System
In terms of cardiovascular disease, the constituents of cigarette smoke can cause unfavorable change in lipid metabolism, an increase in inflammatory markers within the bloodstream, spur thrombotic events, causeendothelial damage to the lining of blood vessels and disrupt the ability of red blood cells to transport oxygen.
Smoking also placed many of the body’s organs at risk from various forms of cancer. Those organs in direct, sustained contact with cigarette smoke are at greater risk, however, particularly the oesophagus and lungs. Suffice to say, cigarettes contain vast numbers of carcinogens, increasing a smoker’s chances of developing numerous cancers. Meanwhile, tar clogs up the airways, coating the delicate cilia of the respiratory epithelium, whilst nicotine constricts the arteries and provides that addictive property that keeps a smoker coming back for more.
A Smoker’s Recovery Time
Even in reformed smokers the researchers found death rate appeared higher than non-smokers, with deaths caused primarily by cancer and respiratory illness. One of the most startling findings involves the length of time it takes a smoker to fully recover from their prior habits; participants who had stopped smoking during the last 25 years still encountered a 28% increased mortality rate, compared to men who had never smoked. Comparatively, people who had broken the habit for more than 25 years, prior, were seen to have no significant risk impact.
Dr. Emberson offers some insight into the results of his work, suggesting that smoking is always a risk-determining factor, even in the elderly. He maintains, the sooner an individual quits, and the longer they abstain from their smoking practices, the better the outcome and the greater the reduction in risk.
Smokers Who Reach 70 Lose Four Years
The study draws the ultimate conclusion that smokers who continue their practices beyond 70 years of age are likely to lose an average of four years, when comparing the life expectancy of those who had never smoked. From the age of 70, here is the average life expectancy for each of the different categories of subjects:
- Never smoked: +18 years
- Smokers who gave up before reaching 70: +16 years
- Smokers who did not give up before reaching 70: +14 years
In essence, people who had never smoked reached to an average age of 88; comparatively, persistent smokers survived to an average age of 84, four years shorter. Dr. Robert Clark neatly summarizes these conclusions, claiming that even under the circumstances a smoker reaches 70 years of age, their risk of mortality remains substantial.
Ultimately, Clark points out, the sooner one stops the better. Smokers surviving to 70 years of age may still experience a potential four year cut in their life expectancy, but this should not be seen as a sign for people of this age category to throw in the towel and not attempt to break these long-term habits. As the old saying goes, every little helps.
By: James Fenner