Quitting Smoking by 40 Restores Life Expectancy- How Do We Help People Quit?

More than 43 million Americans (including our president) smoke cigarettes.  Nurse practitioners undoubtedly treat multiple smokers each day, often for tobacco-related illness.  With new research indicating that quitting smoking before the age of 40 may restore life expectancy to that of non-smokers, it is more important than ever that we emphasize smoking cessation with our patients.  What are the most effective smoking cessation methods?

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that smokers on average live 10 fewer years than non-smokers.  However, smokers who quit between the ages of 35 and 44 live about nine years longer than if they had continued to smoke.  Smokers who quit between the ages of 45 and 54 live six years longer and those who quit between the ages of 55 and 64 live four years longer than if they had continued smoking.  Researcher Dr. Prabhat Jha clarifies "This is not to say, however, that it is safe to smoke until age 40 then stop, former smokers still have a greater risk of dying sooner than people who never smoked.  But, the risk is small compared to the huge risk for those who continue to smoke".

Given these encouraging statistics, it is more important than ever that we as nurse practitioners advocate smoking cessation with our patients.  The U.S. Center for Disease Control reports that 70% of smokers want to quit.  Only 5% to 10%, however, are successful in any given attempt.  On average it takes between five and six attempts to successfully quit smoking so encourage your patients to keep trying.

Medications prove to be the most effective smoking cessation technique.  Chantix boasts a 44% success rate after three months, dropping to 22% at the one year mark.  Wellbutrin is slightly less effective with a short term success rate of 35% and a success rate of 16% after one year.  Nicotine replacement therapy (patch or gum) has a 25% to 30% six-month success rate after eight weeks of use.  Users of these products, however become addicted to them rather than cigarettes at a rate of about 5%.  Although over 90% of smokers attempt to quit cold-turkey, this method has a success rate if just 10%.

The most effective method for smoking cessation is a combination of multiple techniques and this is what nurse practitioners should recommend to their patients.  Use of nicotine replacement therapy along with Wellbutrin, for example, takes the success rate of smoking cessation with Wellbutrin from 35% to 40%.  Counseling in addition to medications or nicotine replacement also increases a smoker's chances of quitting.  The 1-800-QUIT-NOW program offers free smoking cessation support.

Nurse practitioners must be persistent in asking their patients about tobacco use and encouraging them to quit.  These efforts may literally add years to your patient's lives.

How do you encourage your patients to quit smoking?  What do you feel are the most effective smoking cessation methods? 


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I strongly recommend the book by Allen Carr called "Easyway to Stop Smoking." It helped me quit with no interest of going back (I cant even remember when....3 or 4 years ago). The book helps break down and eliminate all the reasons why you THINK you need cigarettes. Patients can continue smoking while they read the book so that is not a roadblock to starting.

Former smoker