Continued Smoking from Young Age Increases Risk for Premature Death

October 29, 2020
Sydney Jennings

Associate Editor of Patient Care Online

Compared with never smokers, current smokers face nearly 3-times the risk of premature death from heart disease or stroke, according to a new study.

Current smokers face approximately 3-times the risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) or stroke vs those who never smoked, and the risk is higher among those who started smoking during childhood, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“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, MPhil, DPhil, epidemiologist, University of Oxford, England, in a press release. “Simply put, health policies should aim to prevent young people from smoking and should clearly communicate the benefits of quitting to those who do smoke, ideally as young as possible, and before the onset of serious illness.”

Thomson and colleagues used the annual US National Health Interview Survey from 1997-2014 to assess the medical histories, lifestyle habits, and demographics of smokers and nonsmokers. The study included 390 929 adults aged 25-74 years (mean age, 47 years; 56% women) who were followed for mortality through 2015.

Occasional smokers were excluded from the study and current smokers were grouped by the age at which they started smoking (<10 years, 10-14 years, 15-17 years, 18-20 years, or >20 years). Ex-smokers were grouped by the age they last smoked regularly (15-34 years, 35-44 years, 45-54 years, or 55-64 years).

After adjusting for potential confounding variables, including age, education, alcohol consumption, region, and race, the results showed:

  • 58% of participants were never smokers, 23% were ex-smokers, and 19% were current smokers.
  • Among current smokers, 2% started smoking before age 10, and 19% started between ages 10-14.
  • Those who quit smoking by age 40 reduced their excess risk of premature death from CVD by approximately 90%.
Smoking Cessation: The Earlier the Better

Researchers also found that quitting smoking at any age is beneficial, and the earlier the better. Compared to participants who had never smoked:

  • Those who quit between ages 15 and 34 had about the same risk of mortality from CVD or stroke.
  • Those who quit between ages 35 and 44 had about a 20% higher risk.
  • Those who quite between ages 45 and 54 had about a 60% higher risk.
  • Those who quit between ages 55 and 64 had about a 70% higher risk.

“The age at which a person begins smoking is an important and often overlooked factor, and those who start smoking at a young age are at especially high risk of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease,” continued Thomson in the press release. “However, quitting can substantially reduce that risk, especially for those who quit at younger ages. Getting people to quit smoking remains one of the greatest health priorities globally.”