Why Quitting Smoking Is Worth It at Any Age

Older person's hand holds a cigarette

Cludio Policarpo / EyeEm / Getty Images

You're never too old to quit smoking, and there are a bunch of reasons why doing it now will be one of the smartest decisions you'll ever make.

Though you've smoked for years, the benefits you'll enjoy when you quit smoking will begin within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, and the benefits grow for years to come.

  • You will reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and cancer.
  • Your circulation and lung function will improve.
  • If you have chronic bronchitis or emphysema, quitting will help stop further damage.
  • You'll feel physically better, have more stamina and energy, and your self-esteem will soar!

It's never too late to quit smoking.

Do Most Older Smokers Want to Quit Smoking?

Yes! Most smokers, even younger ones, want to quit smoking. What keeps them from quitting? Fear of being irritable, nervous, and tense. Fear of gaining weight. Fear that nicotine withdrawal symptoms will be more than they can manage. Fear that life will be boring without their smokes. 

None of these is a good reason to continue smoking, but nicotine addiction can cloud a person's thinking. 

Once free of smoking, people usually look back and wonder why they didn't quit sooner. The discomforts associated with smoking cessation are all temporary.

Education about what to expect and having a support system in place can make the quitting process doable and even enjoyable.

Older Smokers By the Numbers

Among adults in the U.S.,16 out of 100 between the ages of 45 and 64 smoke cigarettes. For those over 8 out of 100 smoke. That amounts to 25% of all smokers.

Older smokers usually smoke more than younger people and are more likely to smoke brands of cigarettes that have high nicotine levels. 

Older smokers often begin to experience physical symptoms such as shortness of breath and coughing, which are signs of the damage smoking causes.

Older Smokers and Quitting Success

Contrary to what you might think, quitting smoking later in life is not futile or even more difficult. Older smokers are often more likely (and motivated) to quit for good than younger smokers. They've spent years developing a loathing for an addiction they now feel chained to. The longer a person smokes, the less appealing it becomes. 

Along with improved health after quitting, older smokers also report feeling relief and gratitude. And that feeds their long-term success.

Thanks to the incredible healing powers of the human body, many long-term smokers will notice significant improvements once they quit.

Quitting Reduces Health Risks in Older Smokers

While health risks from smoking increase with age, there are always benefits to quitting smoking at any age. Some of the risk factors for smoking include:

Tiredness and Shortness of Breath

Smokers—especially those over 50—are more likely to feel tired, have shortness of breath, and experience a persistent cough. These symptoms often signal the onset of COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Because COPD is usually slow to develop, it doesn't bother most people until they've been smoking for many years.

Heart Attack Risk

Smokers age 60 and older have a greater risk of suffering a heart attack. Smoking is a major risk factor in 4 of the 5 leading causes of death. These include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • COPD

Expanding that list further, we find that smoking is a major risk factor in 6 of the top 14 causes of death. Older male smokers are nearly twice as likely to die from stroke as older men who do not smoke. The odds are nearly as high for older female smokers.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and the leading cause of death caused by smoking. For middle-aged men who smoke, the risk of dying of coronary heart disease increases by four times. For women, the risk is five-fold. Smoking is hard on the heart.

Lung Disease and Cancer Risk

Smoking increases the risk of dying from lung cancer or emphysema, along with numerous other smoking-related diseases.

The risk of dying from lung cancer is much higher for smokers than nonsmokers: 23 times higher for men, and 12 times higher for women.

Death by bronchitis or emphysema increases 17 times for men and 12 times for women over their non-smoking counterparts.

Cigarette smokers age 60 or older have an overall risk of death that is about two times higher than that of never smokers of similar age. Life expectancy for smokers is at least 6 years less than it is for non-smokers.

No Matter Your Age, Quitting Will Help You

Even if you're a smoker and have suffered a heart attack, there is good news: Quitting can reduce the chance of another attack. In some cases quitting can cut the chances in half or even more.

Every day you dedicate to smoking steals more of your life from you and from those who love you. Don't fall for the misguided thinking that it's too late for you to quit smoking. That's nicotine addiction talking, and that mental chatter has a name: junkie thinking.

It's Never Too Late to Quit Smoking

No matter what your age, quitting smoking can improve your health. As soon as you put down that last cigarette, the benefits begin.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Benefits of quitting smoking over time.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current cigarette smoking among adults in the United States.

  3. An LC, Berg CJ, Klatt CM, et al. Symptoms of cough and shortness of breath among occasional young adult smokers. Nicotine Tob Res. 2009;11(2):126-33. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntp015

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health effects of cigarette smoking.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco-related mortality.

  6. American Lung Association. Lung cancer fact sheet.

  7. Müezzinler A, Mons U, Gellert C, et al. Smoking and all-cause mortality in older adults: results from the CHANCES consortium. Am J Prev Med. 2015;49(5):e53-e63. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2015.04.004

By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.