Smoking early in life could raise the chance of dying young. Those who quit do reduce that risk considerably though, and the younger they quit, the better, said the authors of a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA).

Cigarette smoking in the US

Many adults in the US smoke tobacco cigarettes regularly or occasionally. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that almost 14 in every 100 adults were current smokers in 2018. That would represent 34.2 million adults in the US at risk of heart disease, lung disease, cancer and other smoking-related illnesses.

Who is smoking?

Smoking occurs at all ages, among men and women. The latest statistics from the CDC, in 2018, are:

  • 8% of adults aged 18 to 24 years smoke
  • 16% aged 25 to 44 years
  • 16% aged 45 to 64 years
  • 8% aged 65 years

Teens represent a large number of smokers, too. The CDC said that every day about 1,600 teens try smoking for the first time, and almost 5 million middle and high school students use at least one tobacco product, although this statistic includes vaping use.

Where people live may play a role in whether they smoke. CDC data showed that some states have higher smoking rates than others. A surveillance map showed Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas and Guam with the highest rates, while Utah, Puerto Rico, California and Washington had the lowest rates.

Young smokers' risk of dying early

Some smokers are as young as age 10. As for where they got the cigarettes, one report revealed that children and teens often get cigarettes from adults or other kids. They may give money to someone of legal age to buy cigarettes for them. And sometimes, cigarettes are stolen.

In the JAHA study, researchers investigated the connections between childhood smoking, quitting smoking in adulthood and the risk of premature death due to cardiovascular disease, or heart disease. Their study was inspired by an earlier study conducted in Cuba that connected childhood smoking to early mortality. The US researchers wanted to know if that previous research had generalized results.

The study

The researchers collected data recorded between 1997 and 2014, of 424,793 US adults, aged 25 to 74 years. Almost 400,000 were included in the study.

They were grouped by smoking history, based on the age when they first started or the age when they last smoked. By the end of the study, 4,479 people had died from heart disease or stroke before age 75.

When the researchers analyzed the outcomes of those who quit smoking, they found that those who did between:

  • 15 and 34 years of age had a risk of dying from heart disease or stroke that was similar to non-smokers
  • 35 and 44 years had a 20% higher risk
  • 45 and 54 years had a 60% higher risk
  • 55 and 64 years had a 70% higher risk

Those who were current smokers had nearly three times as much risk.

"Preventing the next generation from smoking can save lives, but we must also emphasize that quitting smoking can save lives now, and in the years to come," said lead author Blake Thomson, PhD, in a press release. Dr. Thompson is an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford in the UK.

Quitting the habit

Quitting smoking can cause withdrawal symptoms that make it tough for some people. To fight the cravings, you might try the four Ds:

  • Delay acting on the craving for five minutes. It usually goes away.
  • Do some deep breathing to calm you down.
  • Drink a glass of water.
  • Do something else to create a distraction.

Your doctor can help you, too. Nicotine replacement therapy gives you nicotine without smoking. Prescriptions like varenicline do not have nicotine but contain ingredients that act on the brain like nicotine.

Ralph Chen is an enthusiast of medical topics and advanced technologies. When not writing, he spends time playing popular PC games.