Is It Ever Too Late to Quit Smoking?

man breaking a cigarette in half

Risk of cancer-related death drops dramatically, even for smokers over 45, study shows.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the world. If you smoke, you probably know it increases your risk for many diseases, including heart disease, stroke, emphysema, and many types of cancers.

But there may be some good news for those who kick the habit earlier in life. A recent study published in late 2021 in JAMA Oncology found that those who quit before age 45 cut their excess risk of dying of cancer by 89%. 

Even quitters older than 45 can cut their risk significantly. 

The sooner, the better

a person's hand refusing a box of cigarettes

The study – which followed 410,000 Americans for nearly two decades – found that quitting even earlier had greater benefits. Those who were able to stop smoking before age 35 had no excess cancer risk.

But this doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel if you’re older than 45 and still smoking. The study found quitters of all ages reduced their cancer risk significantly. Those who quit before age 55 cut their excess risk by 78%, while those who quit before age 65 cut their risk by 56%.  

"The takeaway from this study supports what I always tell our patients: ‘Don’t quit quitting!’” said Patti Moore, BSN, RN, TTS, a Tobacco Treatment Specialist with Munson Healthcare. “It is never too soon or too late to stop smoking.”

The bottom line: If you smoke, regardless of your age, quit as soon as you can to reduce your risk for cancer.

Build a quit strategy

Quitting isn’t easy. If it was, you’d have thrown out your cigarettes a long time ago. But with some help, you can stop smoking. Millions of people have done it. Here’s how:

Know your reasons.

There are countless reasons to quit. Better health. Better smelling clothes. Extra money. Better oral hygiene. Setting a good example for the kids in your life. Choose what matters most to you. Then write those reasons down and stick them in a place you’ll see every day, like your bathroom mirror.

Make a plan.

a calendar with I Quit and a broken cigarette on it

When you decide you’re ready, set a date, mark it on your calendar, and prepare to quit.

Plan ahead for cravings.

Nicotine is very addictive, both physically and mentally. That’s what makes stopping smoking so hard. Write down a few ideas for other things you can do when a craving hits. You might take a walk, chew gum, or call a friend. Having a plan in place will help when you feel like smoking. You can find more ideas for getting through your days smoke-free by reading the Stress Strategies on page 8 in our free Resilience Toolkit.

Try nicotine replacements.

Consider using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help you quit. NRT can double your chances for success. NRT products include gums, patches, lozenges, and inhalers. You can buy some over-the-counter but need a prescription for others. Talk with your primary health care provider about the options best suited to you.

Let loved ones know.

Tell family and friends you are quitting – and don’t be shy about asking for their help regardless of their own smoking status. This might mean that loved ones who smoke agree to not do so around you. It can also help keep you accountable, especially during those times you’re more likely to smoke, like when you’re socializing.

Lean on extra help.

two women talking

Quitting smoking is easier with support and encouragement. In addition to telling family and friends that you’re quitting, consider joining an online support group, downloading an app like Kwit or Smoke Free, talking with a health coach or counselor, or sign up for a texting program. Our Tobacco Treatment Specialists at Munson Healthcare can also help. 

Build your resilience.

Resilience is our ability to bounce back from stress. How is it linked to quitting? Because stress can instigate habits like smoking that threaten our health. Resilience is not something you’re born with. But with practice, you can build and nurture your inner strength so it’s easier to stay smoke-free. Learn more about resilience, how you can build it, and tips for reducing stress both in the short-term and long-term. 

Get Screened for Lung Cancer

Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for lung cancer and what you can do about them. The screening test used for lung cancer is called a low-dose or spiral CT scan, which can help detect certain types of lung cancer early – when it’s often easier to treat. Only your medical provider can order this screening. Need a primary care provider? Use our Find a Doctor service. 

Find a Doctor

More Smoking Cessation Resources from Munson Healthcare