Harvard Health Letter

In Brief: Smokers: The formers versus the nevers

In Brief

Smokers: The formers versus the nevers

Former smokers now outnumber current ones in the United States, and, thankfully, one of the rewards for giving up the nasty habit is reduced risk for many smoking-related diseases. But the question has been by how much do the risks go down, and how fast. Findings published in the May 7, 2008, issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association suggest that former smokers do eventually catch up to never smokers, even when it comes to lung cancer.

The Harvard researchers who conducted the analysis compared the mortality rates of current, former, and never-smokers in the Nurses' Health Study. Their findings about heart attack and stroke risk agreed with what others have found: the risks go down pretty fast. Five years after her last cigarette, a former smoker's risk of dying from a heart attack was about 60% less than if she were still smoking, and risk of dying from stroke fell by roughly 40%. And after about 20 years, her risk was down to the same level as the never-smokers.

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