Study: Quitting smoking increases life span up to 10 years

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24 2013 6:30 p.m. MST

Chris Price plays with his son Gavin at their home in Clearfield, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

CLEARFIELD — At 15, Chris Price and his friends knew all the stores and employees from which they could get cigarettes to smoke.

He grew up with a mom who smoked, and his two siblings also became smokers at a young age.

"She used to tell me how disgusting it was, but at the same time, she would still smoke," he said, adding that his mother was aware that he was stealing from her cigarette supply to obtain the euphoria he said smoking brought him. "I was addicted, even at that age."

At the peak of his addiction, Price was burning through a pack and a half a day: "After a while, it was all I could think about, getting to that next cigarette."

It wasn't until he met a girl, Rachael, who turned up her nose at the unpleasant odor smoking causes, that Price, now 34, began to think about quitting. At the time, he was paying $5.30 per pack and couldn't fathom doling out the estimated $50 for nicotine patches to help him quit.

Rachael would become his wife, and spurts of quitting cold turkey bought him weeks, even months at a time free of cigarettes. After several years, he didn't pick up the habit again, until the untimely death of his baby girl in July of 2006.

"It was how I coped," he said, but he didn't really want to stick with it. His next attempt to quit, which included a cessation medication, somehow took hold. Much to the relief of his wife and their three other children, Price hasn't smoked since.

According to a study released Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, Price kicked his habit in the nick of time, actually tacking years back onto the end of his life. The report states that smokers who quit between the ages of 25 and 34 can regain nearly the same life expectancy as people who never smoked, reclaiming the 10 years of their lives they might have lost to smoking.

Those who quit between the ages of 35 and 44, 45 to 54, and 55 to 64 stand to gain nine, six and four years of life, respectively, the study states.

"They can never erase the fact that they smoked, but it can increase the benefits of quitting smoking," said Amy Oliver, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Health Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. Benefits of stopping smoking, she said, include increased lung capacity; longer life expectancy; and a decreased risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer, among other hazardous illnesses that can lead to death.

Oliver said 29 percent of smokers in Utah are between 25 and 34, and while the age group is already a prime target of smoking cessation campaigns, the new findings make helping them quit even more important.

Of the 220,000 adults in the state who smoke, she said about 80 percent have expressed a desire to quit. State and community programs, including the Utah Quit Line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, and www.Utahquitnet.com, have become more available over the years and are free and confidential to anyone who might need them.

The programs provide access to a "quit counselor" throughout the duration of their program, someone they can call at any time for encouragement and support, help a smoker get started and stay excited about quitting, Oliver said.

She said Utah has the lowest smoking rate in the nation, at 11.3 percent, according to 2011 health department data, but remains a problem.

"Quitting smoking is not easy, we know that," she said, adding that for most people, it takes six or seven attempts before conquering the addiction. "It can be discouraging, but once you get through six or seven tries, you're in the home stretch, it gets easier every time."

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