Seniors and Quitting Smoking
Posted on March 25, 2014 by Taylor Rhea
It is a well-established fact that smoking is detrimental to one’s health, causing lung cancer, increased risk of stroke, and heart disease, among others. Undoubtedly, the earlier a smoker breaks the habit, the better. Older smokers are at greater risk because they have smoked longer (an average of 40 years). They tend to be heavier smokers, and are more likely to suffer from smoking-related illnesses, according to The American Lung Association.
In the past, it was thought to take around 15 years after quitting smoking to lower the risk of a heart attack. But a study found that quitting smoking helps seniors cut their risk of death by heart disease sooner than previously thought.
In the study, 853 former smokers aged 65 and older found that many with a light-to-moderate smoking history could cut their risk in eight years or less. The find is significant because it reinforces the need for doctors to be aggressive in recommending smoking cessation for older patients.
Luckily for 90-year-old Al Tigri of Atria Hillsdale, he was able to kill his smoking habit at age 40.
Talking to Al over the phone, you’d never know he is a 90-year-old ex-smoker. His voice is youthful and full of enthusiasm. Al started smoking when he was 16 years old and reflects on how he got started.
“When I first started smoking, I had the Bull Durhams where you rolled your own cigarette. Then in school I started smoking Sensation cigarettes, at 10 cents per pack,” he explained.
Al was drafted into the U.S. Army when he was 19 years old. He went into basic training in North Africa, landing in Casablanca. Then he was stationed in Italy for 18 months. Al spent three years in the Army. “Everyone in the Army smoked. If you weren’t a smoker when you got there, you were a smoker by the time you left,” said Al.
“Later, I started smoking Lucky Strike when I was working in the construction business.” During Al’s last eight years of smoking, Marlboros were Al’s cigarettes of choice. He was smoking at least three packs of Marlboros a day.
“I tried to quit for five years. I’d crumple them up and throw them in the street and then a few hours later I’d go back out in the street and pick them back up,” recalled Al.
It was a tough road, but he finally made up his mind. “I started hearing about cancer and all that stuff. I figured there’s no better time than now to quit,”
His wife was not a fan of the habit either. “She was tired of the ashtrays around the house. We had three small children breathing in that air. They didn’t know back then how bad it was.”
One day Al came home and declared he was done. “I said, ‘You’ll never see me smoke again.’ I just made up my mind; I’m not going to do it anymore. I quit, that’s it.” His wife was elated. Al remembers her reaction. “She went hysterical and was so happy when I told her.”
There was no secret remedy or quick fix that broke the habit for Al. “I just did it. It was tough, but I made up my mind.”
Although Al has been smoke-free for nearly 50 years, he still had to deal with the repercussions of his smoking habit.
“Nine months ago I had two strokes and had two stints put in my right leg. I ruined my veins. Every six months I have to get it checked on. The doctor asked me if I used to smoke, and I said ‘yes’ and he said to me, ‘You’re paying for it now.’” But things could have been a lot worse for his health had he continued to smoke. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are immediate benefits of quitting smoking. These include lowered heart rate and blood pressure, improved lung function and a decline in carbon monoxide levels, resulting in an increase in the blood's ability to transport oxygen.
Al says that it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, there is no better time to quit smoking than now.
“The only advice I have is you have to make up your mind and quit cold turkey,” he advised. “That’s it. Don’t play any games with yourself. Just do it.”