Health Team

Study: Quitting can have major benefits for long-time smokers

Smoking can lead to a host of life-threatening diseases. Study finds that even if you've smoked for a long time, benefits can accrue to you.

Posted Updated
Switch to classic

Smoking can lead to a host of life-threatening diseases, but if you've smoked for a long time, how much does quitting actually accomplish?

A new study of women who kicked the habit shows dramatic improvements in a short amount of time.

Liz Riley started smoking when she was 15 years old.

“I smoked for 30 years, and I knew that if I continued to smoke that I probably would die,” she said.

Researchers studied about 100,000 women from 1980 to 2004. They compared death rates for various diseases among current and former smokers with the rates for women who had never smoked.

The risk of dying dropped significantly once women in the study stopped smoking.

“Within the first five years of quitting smoking, we saw a reduction in the risk of dying of lung cancer and a 50 percent reduction in the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease – specifically coronary heart disease,” said Stacey Kenfield with the Harvard School of Public Health.

Within 20 years after quitting, the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease dropped even further, comparable to the level of women who never smoked.

“Once you remove the carcinogens from tobacco smoke from your body, your body is able to repair itself,” Kenfield said.

Riley said that's what she experienced. An addiction counselor helped her quit smoking in 2002.

“Immediately, I noticed the effects even within the first few days. I noticed that I could breathe better,” she said.

Researchers said they hope the findings prompt other women to follow Riley’s example.

Researchers found that 64 percent of deaths among current smokers are linked to their own smoking. In the U.S., tobacco use remains the most common preventable cause of death.