Study Finds That Stopping Smoking Before Age 35 Lessens Health Risks Caused By Cigarettes


A new study that included over half a million Americans that are cigarette smokers found that those who stopped smoking by the age of 35 had similar mortality rates to those that never smoked in that same time period.

So, if you happen to be a smoker that’s 35 years old or older, don’t worry. These findings, which were published in the October 24 copy of JAMA Network Open, talked about the significant benefits of quitting smoking, even in later life as well.

According to professor at UNC Family Medicine and director of the tobacco intervention programs at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, Adam Goldstein, MD, MPH, was not involved in the study, “If current smokers younger than 45 years old quit (the age group that smokes the most), they will reduce their risk of dying from any cause close to that of someone who never has smoked.”

He added, “Even those who quit by age 65 will cut their risk of dying by two-thirds compared to those who continue to smoke.”

Around 30 Million Americans Smoke Cigarettes

According to statistics, in 2020, around 12.5 percent – or 30.8 million – U.S. adults smoke cigarettes, which was down from 20.9 percent in 2005. Regardless of that improvement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared that smoking still happens to be the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. The estimate is that 480,000 Americans die each year because of cigarettes.

It’s a well-known fact that smoking causes many fatal diseases, including lung diseases, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes such diseases as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Moreover, there’s an increased risk of tuberculosis, problems with the immune system like rheumatoid arthritis, and certain eye diseases, according to the CDC.

The Majority of Smokers Will Die From Smoke-Related Diseases

The research group used the data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey, collecting the questionnaires between the ages of January 1997 and December 2018. From the 551,388 participants were between ages of 25 and 84 during the time of their recruitment for the survey. Notably, making the participants an average of 49 years old.

From the study participants, 19.8% said that they were current smokers, while 55.9% claimed they never smoked. Meanwhile, another 24.3% used to be smokers. Those that were enrolled in the study were followed for at least 17 years, with the average follow up being around 11 years, at which time 74,870 people died.

Researchers found out that amongst those that were current or former smokers, there was an estimated 44% of the deaths that were linked to smoking. Another 52.2% of cancer deaths, 34.7% of heart disease deaths, and 86.9% of deaths were from lower respiratory disease attributed to smoking as well.

What Dr. Goldstein explained further is that the findings from this wide-scale study confirmed what they had previously seen, which was that smoking causes major excess death in men and women, and in white, Black, Hispanic patients as well.

He shared, “Cigarette smoking, and its promulgation by tobacco companies, are equal-opportunity killers. For current smokers, a majority will die of or suffer from a smoking-related illness.”

White Smokers Had Highest Additional Risk of Early Death Compared to Other Ethnicities

Due to the high number of people in the study, the researchers were able to look at smoking behavior and risk in different groups of people.

Once they adjusted the age, alcohol consumption, education level, they found that smokers who were white had the highest excess mortality, which was three times that of those that never smoked. As for the Black and Hispanic current smokers, their excess risk was ‘2.19 and 2.01 times, respectively.’

The authors also noted that ‘the higher excess mortality found in white current smokers may be related to the fact that they reported starting smoking at an earlier age and were more likely to smoke daily and smoke more cigarettes per day than Black and Hispanic smokers.’

The Study Findings Support the Benefits and Importance of Quitting

 The authors also explain that smokers that chose to quit smoking after the age of 35 had a higher risk of early death than those that never smoked, however, they were still able to substantially reverse that risk. Meanwhile, for those that quit smoking before they turned 45 were also associated with an ‘estimated 90 percent reduction of the added mortality risk associated with continued smoking.’ As for those that quit between the ages of 45 and 64 were also associated with a reduction of around 66% of the excess risk.

Dr. Goldstein said that the results are good news. He explained, “It is never too late to quit smoking, and the earlier you quit, the greater the benefit, and that’s true for everyone. Smoking cessation is the best thing most people in the U.S. can do to prolong their life irrespective of racial, gender, or ethnic group.”

The authors also noted that the more time that had passed since a person quit smoking, the closer their mortality rate was to that of someone that never smoked before.

Help to Quit Smoking

If you are looking for resources to help you quit smoking, we’ve listed some here.

According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco addiction is both mental and physical. Usually, the best path to quitting successfully is through using a combination of medicine and a plan to change personal habits, as well as emotional support.

Another site,, provides tips and tools that help build a quit plan, and includes supportive text messages, as well as a guide that talks about using nicotine replacement therapy.

Another resource is the app quitSTART, which takes the information provided about your smoking history in order to include inspiration, personalized tips, and challenges to help you quit smoking for good.