More than half of all adults over the age of 65 who smoke want to quit. Yet only 1 in 20 are able to successfully do so, according to a 2019 study published in Preventive Medicine Reports. One reason their track record may be so dismal is they fail to take advantage of the available treatments. In the 2019 study, only a third of older adults who tried to quit used any sort of proven cessation treatment such as medication or counseling, and only 6 percent followed recommendations to combine both.
"Many older adults have already tried to quit multiple times over the years, so they think there's no real use in trying again,” says Albert Rizzo, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. “But we know that your chances rise dramatically if you combine at least one of the FDA-approved medications with some form of counseling.”
It can also help to remember that you reap health benefits from quitting, no matter what your age, Rizzo adds. Within minutes of smoking your last cigarette, your heart rate drops, and within a month, smoking-related symptoms like coughing should improve. “Even if you're 90, your quality of life can improve dramatically — you'll notice that your sense of smell and taste improve, you'll experience less shortness of breath, and within a year your risk of heart attack drops dramatically,” Rizzo says.
Here, five things to keep in mind as you come up with your own stop-smoking plan:
Get a prescription — or better yet, two
There are seven over-the-counter and prescription drugs that can help you quit smoking, says Scott Sherman, M.D., a smoking cessation specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center. These include:
- Varenicline (Chantix), a prescription drug that works in your brain to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms and cigarette cravings.
- Bupropion (Zyban or Wellbutrin), an antidepressant that has been shown to help smokers stop, possibly by activating the dopamine centers of the brain.
- Nicotine replacement therapies. These help to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. They're available in five forms: the patch, gum, nasal spray, inhaler and lozenges. All work equally well; choosing one boils down to patient preference, explains Sherman.
Combining two of these therapies yields maximum effectiveness, advises Humberto Choi, M.D., a smoking cessation specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. “We usually try to start patients on varenicline combined with another nicotine replacement therapy — this appears to be the most effective,” he says.