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Will You Actually Live Longer if You Quit Smoking?

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Will You Actually Live Longer if You Quit Smoking?

Jan 16, 2019

We all know smoking cigarettes is bad for you. It cause significant health problems including lung cancer and COPD. Lung tissue, once damaged, cannot repair itself. So if you quit smoking, will it really help you live longer? Tom Miller, MD, talks to Nate Hatton, MD, pulmonary specialist at University of Utah Health, about whether or not quitting smoking can lead to a better quality of life, regardless of your age.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Miller: We all know smoking's bad for you, but if you quit, will you live longer? We're going to talk about that next on Scope Radio.

Announcer: Health information from experts supported by research. From University of Utah Health, this is

Dr. Miller: Hi, I'm Dr. Tom Miller and I'm here with Dr. Nate Hatton. He's a pulmonary specialist, a lung doctor that works here at the University of Utah. Nate, tell me a little bit about smokers and, if a smoker decides to quit, are they going to live longer, and happier?

Dr. Hatton: Smoking has tons of health-related consequences, from heart disease to lung disease, to peripheral vascular disease. I mean, the number of bad things smoking causes is almost innumerable. As a pulmonologist, there are two things that smoking causes that most people are aware of. One is lung cancer, the other one is what we call COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. And basically, that disease means that you have trouble exhaling. So the air comes in very easily, but you can't exhale very easily, which makes you short of breath, and makes you feel poorly, and over time, you can actually become dependent on oxygen and have a very poor quality of life because you become so debilitated from your smoking-related disease.

Dr. Miller: Now, what I understand is, once that starts in a smoker, it continues. It doesn't stop. You can't reverse it, is that correct?

Dr. Hatton: The lungs, for whatever reason, don't heal very well. Once you develop emphysema, which basically destroys lung tissue, or is the destruction of lung tissue, you can never . . . the lungs have no regeneration capacity and so once this process starts, there's no way to reverse the process or actually "fix the lungs." You're always going to have this disease and, unfortunately, it sort of . . . once the fire gets started, it tends to smolder and things tend to get worse over time.

Dr. Miller: So smart money would say to stop smoking now before it ever starts.

Dr. Hatton: Yeah, I mean, we know, as mentioned, smoking causes all sorts of things. If you quit smoking, whether you're 40, 50, 60, or 70, there is a great amount of data that says you will live more days and more years from that point forward.

Dr. Miller: Do you have some numbers of that?

Dr. Hatton: Well, the most compelling number is, even at 70 years old, studies have shown that you may live up to a year longer.

Dr. Miller: And how about if you're 50 or 60?

Dr. Hatton: It's probably in the number of three to five years.

Dr. Miller: What about that quality of life?

Dr. Hatton: The sooner you quit, the less lung disease you will have, which means your quality of life will always be better. The more you smoke, the more you're sort of perpetuating this lung damage and ultimately, you will need oxygen and become disabled. And so quitting smoking earlier before you have any of those symptoms or lung damage issues will obviously enhance your quality of life.

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updated: January 15, 2019
originally published: November 8, 2016