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No Matter How Many Times You’ve Failed, You Can Quit Smoking – and Should. Now

Seniors who’ve struggled for decades to quit smoking – and failed -- could certainly identify with the famous quote from Mark Twain, "Quitting smoking is easy; I've done it a thousand times.”

Having failed to quit before, though, should not be cause for despair or self-doubt. Most people who ultimately quit smoking, after all, fail on their first try, and many who finally quit fail repeatedly before they finally stub out their last butt.

When they do, positive results come almost immediately.

In fact, as soon as you quit smoking, your body actually begins healing, begins reversing the damage from inhaling toxins for decades.

Why Quit Now?

Because your life depends on it. Research shows tobacco use is the primary preventable cause of death, as well as disabilities, among elderly people. Seniors who smoke have twice the mortality rate as those who don’t.

Smoking puts you at much greater risk of heart attacks, heart disease, and lung disease, the top killers of elderly Americans. Smoking over years or decades can cause pulmonary fibrosis -- scarring and damage to the lung tissue -- which can never be reversed and can lead to progressively worsening shortness of breath and lung disease. If you don’t quit smoking, you’ll also face a much higher risk of emphysema, which leaves victims gasping for breath and has been likened to the feeling of drowning alive.

Continuing to smoke not only increases the odds you’ll spend your golden years ailing and sickly, but also will shorten your life, your time with loved ones, your time to do all those things you promised yourself you’d do in retirement. Smoking also increases the chances you’ll suffer dementia or other cognitive impairments in old age, as well as a loss of function and ability to perform basic activities of daily living. If you don’t quit, you’ll also increase your risk of macular degeneration, cataracts, complete vision loss, and hearing loss.

Those are the downsides of continuing to smoke. Now, consider some of the payoffs that come with quitting:

  • You will live longer.

  • Among the fastest benefits, your heart rate and the carbon monoxide level in your blood drop to normal with weeks.

  • Within three months, the chance of your suffering a heart attack drops, and your lungs begin healing, with improved function.

  • Within a year, your risk of heart disease becomes half that of a smoker. You’ll suffer fewer respiratory ailments and illnesses.

  • You’ll substantially reduce your long-term risk of heart attack, stroke, emphysema, and cancer

  • Your circulation will improve, and you’ll have more energy.

  • You will breathe much more easily when you exercise.

  • You will save money.

  • You will stop smelling like an ashtray.

  • Your taste buds, long dulled by smoke, will come alive, and you’ll savor the tastes of food as you haven’t in years.

  • Your blood flow will improve, enabling vital nutrients, minerals, and oxygen to extend through your system.

  • You immune system will become stronger, making you less likely to suffer illness.

  • With improved oxygen flow in your bloodstream, your muscles will grow stronger, as will your bones, reducing the risk of fractures, an especially important concern among seniors, many with already-weakened bones.

How to Quit?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and numerous other federal agencies and nonprofits offer a wealth of tips on how to quit smoking.

Among advice that has proved successful for millions who managed to kick the habit for good:

  • Devise a plan to quit smoking, and make sure you prepare by relying on proven strategies and pinpointing challenges such as common smoking triggers.

  • Set a date. A few weeks out will give you enough time to prepare. Avoid picking a day when you’re likely to be stressed by work or extremely busy. Inform loved ones, friends, and colleagues of your quit date.

  • Before the date arrives, dispose of all cigarettes, lighters, matches, ashtrays, and anything else that could tempt you to smoke.

  • When your quit date arrives, anticipate triggers to smoke. They vary greatly among individual smokers, but include the after-meal smoke, the smoke with your coffee, the smoke while driving, the smoke while texting, and on and on. Recognize your triggers.

  • Try substitutes for cigarettes like gum, mints, cinnamon sticks, nuts, fruits, or other healthy snacks.

  • Take a long walk to relieve stress, get your blood flowing, release feel-good chemicals – and keep your mind off smoking.

  • Continually remind yourself of the many short- and long-term benefits of quitting smoking. List them, and read your list often.

  • Consider medications, nicotine patches, and nicotine gum, which have helped many quitting smokers get past cravings and the worst of withdrawal.

  • Tap into resources such as quit lines -- 800-QUIT-NOW, 800-784-8669 is the best known – and check out quit-smoking websites and online apps.

  • Try a support group where other members going through the process can offer encouragement, empathy, and tips. It can be a lot easier than going it alone.