Quit Smoking at Any Age

It’s never too late to kick your addiction to cigarettes. But if you are a senior citizen, you may worry that after smoking for so many years, you'll find it impossible to quit. Or maybe you’ve tried to quit before, and failed, and are reluctant to try again.

But Joel Blass, MD, Medical Director of Cassena Care Health, a New York-area nursing home, says that people of any age—including older folks—can be successful with their smoking cessation efforts. In the process, they can also extend their lifespan and gain some important health and quality-of-life benefits, including a reduced risk of diabetes, cancers, and stroke, according to the American Cancer Society. In fact, health improvements actually begin within the first 20 minutes of quitting, with a reduction in your heart rate and blood pressure. One year after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease is down to half that of someone who still smokes, while 10 years after quitting, your risk of dying of lung cancer will be half that of someone who still smokes. And these are just a few of the numerous health improvements you can expect.

Blass offers these important strategies that can be especially helpful for seniors who are ready to give up cigarettes:

1. Write a List of Reasons Why You Want to Quit

Is smoking is worsening your health problems, such as diabetes, asthma, pneumonia, heart disease, a stroke, or dementia? Or do you want to prevent these and other conditions in the first place? Would you like to save the money that currently goes towards cigarettes? Or are you thinking about feeling better, having more energy, and improving your overall quality of life? Write your reasons down, and put the list in a visible spot or somewhere easy to access.

2. Commit to Quit

Once you know why you want to quit, you’ll need to make a conscious decision to follow through and set a formal Quit Date. This can be today or any time in the near future. Whatever day you pick, it’s important to take that date seriously and stick with it.

3. Talk to Your Physician About Your Options

There are a number of smoking cessation aids approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Medications can double your chances of quitting successfully. Some require a prescription, while others are available over-the-counter.

Nicotine replacement therapy, in the form of patches, gum, and lozenges, is the most common smoking cessation aid, but there are other options available. Your doctor can help you determine what will be best for your situation. These aids can help you manage the withdrawal symptoms and overcome your craving for cigarettes. Many people need to take these aids for two or three months.

4. Make a Formal Quit Plan

You’ll need a written plan that details exactly how you’ll accomplish this goal. Your Quit Plan may include methods like nicotine replacement therapy and connecting with local or online support groups. Both these tools can help you to stay strong and cope even when you experience withdrawal symptoms, including feelings of irritability, sadness, anger, and lightheadedness.

5. Determine Your Smoking Triggers

Most people smoke at certain times; they might smoke after a meal or when drinking alcohol. If you don't know your triggers, keep track of your smoking habits to help figure out when you're most likely to smoke. Once you've identified your triggers, explore ways to outsmart your cravings. For instance, if you have a cigarette every night after dinner, plan to go for a walk or call a friend during this time.

6. Seek out Support to Help You Stay Strong

Encouragement from others can help you stick to your resolution to quit. Experts recommend connecting with other people who have quit, or are in the process of quitting, through your local hospital or community-based program. You can also access a number of resources online, including quit counselors, chat boards, and support groups. Some places to look for help and information include the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline, which can be reached at (877) 44U-QUIT, Smokefree.gov, and Be Tobacco Free.

Staying the Course

While stopping smoking is difficult at any age, the benefits you get when you stick with it will be well worth the effort. From a health perspective, you’ll reduce your risk of having a heart attack, stroke, bronchitis, or cataracts. You’ll also improve your breath, cough less, have fewer wrinkles, be more energetic, and save money in the process.

Joel Blass, MD, Medical Director, Cassena Care Health, reviewed this article.


Blass, Joel MD, Medical Director, Cassena Care Health. Email interview February 22, 2016.

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"When Smokers Quit – What Are the Benefits Over Time?" American Cancer Society. Accessed online March 1, 2016.

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