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Older Smokers More Likely to Quit for Good

Their rate of relapse is half that of younger puffers

MONDAY, March 27, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Smoking may have less of a grip on older people than on the young, a new study suggests.

A Duke University study of 573 elderly smokers tracked health information from 1986 to 1996 and found that, of those who quit smoking during the first three years of the study, the majority remained quitters until they died or until the end of the study period.

Just 16 percent of the elderly quitters returned to smoking, the study found. This contrasts with previous research findings that young smokers who quit have a 35 percent to 45 percent rate of smoking relapse within two years of quitting.

"The patterns of smoking cessation in older people are quite different than previous research has shown with regard to smoking cessation in younger populations, " researcher Dr. Heather Whitson, a geriatrics fellow at Duke's Center for the Study of Aging, said in a prepared statement. "More research is needed, but with greater understanding of motivations for quitting in later life, better cessation programs could be developed for this population. This would be particularly true if we could determine quality of life benefits and longevity for older people who quit."

This low smoking relapse rate among elderly people could be due, in part, to higher death rates in that group, the Duke team acknowledged. However, they said it may also reflect fundamental differences in habits and attitudes between older and younger smokers.

"Something novel may be motivating those older people who do give up smoking -- either they are really motivated to give up the habit or factors outside of their control are influencing the decision to quit," Whitson said.

Loss of transportation (resulting in loss of access to cigarettes), onset of dementia, financial constraints, or a move to assisted living or a relative's home where smoking is forbidden are among the other factors that may influence quitting among elderly smokers.

The study also found that older women may be more successful than older men at quitting smoking and avoiding relapse, and that both older men and women are more likely to quit if they've recently been diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease.

The findings appear in the March issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about quitting smoking.

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, March 14, 2006
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