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Older women most successful at quitting smoking

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, (Reuters) Women who are 65 years old or older are better at quitting smoking than their male counterparts, and new findings show the older men and women are generally better at staying off cigarettes compared with younger smokers.

''Until now, there hasn't been a concerted effort to look at this older population, and physicians generally make less efforts recommending older patients stop smoking,'' Dr. Heather E. Whitson, from Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, told Reuters Health.

Although the hazards of smoking are well known, it has been difficult to demonstrate that quitting at an advanced age improves patient outcomes, and the general perception is that best results are achieved when people stop smoking early.

''But what our study tells us is that we do need to be aggressive with this older population too, because it's never too late to benefit from quitting,'' Whitson said. ''We could probably design better quitting programs if we understood better what motivates them to stop.'' Whitson and her colleagues followed 573 elderly smokers over 10 years to determine if the characteristics associated with successful quitting in younger smokers (40 years old on average) are the same in older patients.

The results, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, show that over the entire study period, only 16 percent of smokers who quit returned to smoking. This contrasts sharply with previous findings in younger populations, in which the recidivism rate was 30 to 45 percent within 2 years of quitting.

''The lower rates of recidivism can be linked to the higher mortality rates in this population, but they may also reflect a fundamental difference in older smokers,'' Whitson said. ''More research has to be done to identify these specific characteristics.'' The patterns exhibited by elderly smokers were different than those of in younger populations, in which men, for example, tend to be more successful at quitting than women.

''Besides differences in motivations, factors they cannot control may also be influencing them,'' Whitson suggested. ''They could have to do with financial hardship, lack of transportation, harder access to cigarettes or moving into a facility or at a relative's place where smoking isn't allowed.'' Overall, 100 patients managed to stop smoking completely, mostly women. The researchers also found that, among the patients who died during the study period, 44 per cent were successful quitters and 51.6 per cent were non-quitters. However, after controlling for other variables, the difference in 7-year mortality between the groups was not statistically significant.


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