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Tobacco use is a leading cause of cancer and early death in the U.S. and throughout the world. According to a new study looking at people 70 years old and older, the good news is that quitting smoking at any time in life (even as late as the 60s) is better for immediate health and also reduces the risk of death.

The study compared people who had never smoked to people currently smoking - and found that in the 6 year follow up period current smokers were more than three times more likely to die than people who had never smoked. Furthermore, quitting smoking at any age was associated with a lower risk of death. Former smokers who quit smoking earlier in life received the largest benefit from quitting smoking. But even people who quit during their 60s were at substantially decreased risk of death (when compared to people who continued to smoke). Bottom line: It's never too late to quit smoking. But best is to never even start smoking. From MedicalXpress:

Quitting smoking at any age reduces the risk of death after 70

Tobacco use continues to be a major cause of cancer and premature death. Most studies of cigarette smoking and mortality have focused on middle-aged populations, with fewer studies examining the impact of tobacco cessation on disease and mortality risk among the elderly. A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that people aged 70 or older currently smoking were more than three times more likely to die than never-smokers, while former smokers were less likely to die the sooner they quit.

Investigators reviewed data for more than 160,000 individuals aged 70 and over who participated in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. They completed a questionnaire in 2004-2005 detailing their smoking use, and reported deaths were tracked until the end of 2011....For this study, participants still smoking in their 70s were identified as current smokers, and former smokers were classified by the decade of life when quitting. At the beginning of the study (2004-2005), the median age of participants was 75 years. Almost 56% were former smokers and 6% were current smokers. Males were less likely (31% vs 48% of females) to be never-smokers. 

During an average follow-up of 6.4 years, almost 16% of the participants died. While 12.1% of the never smokers died, 16.2%, 19.7%, 23.9%, and 27.9% of former smokers who quit between ages 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, and 60-69 years died, respectively. Current smokers fared the worst, with 33.1% dying. Mortality rates for women were lower than men at each level of smoking use.

"These data show that age at smoking initiation and cessation, both key components of smoking duration, are important predictors of mortality in U.S. adults aged 70 years and older," commented Dr. Nash. "In the NIH-AARP study population, younger age at initiation was associated with increased risk of mortality, highlighting the importance of youth and early-adult smoking on lifetime mortality risk, even among people who live to age 70 years. In addition, former smokers were at substantially reduced risk of mortality after age 70 years relative to current smokers, even those who quit in their 60s. These findings show that smoking cessation should be emphasized to all smokers, regardless of age."

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) released a report this week stating that tobacco use is the most preventable cause of cancer, and that 40% of US cancer cases are linked to its use. It is estimated that currently there are more than 36 million smokers in the US. For in depth information, go to the CDC Cancer and Tobacco Use page. They also point out that tobacco smoke has at least 70 chemicals that cause cancer (carcinogens), and that exposure to secondhand smoke also causes cancer and thousands of deaths each year. From Medical Xpress;

Tobacco linked to 40 percent of US cancers

Tobacco use remains the most preventable cause of cancer, and 40 percent of diagnosed US cancer cases may have a link to its use, health authorities said Thursday. Lung cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, and tumors of the mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon and rectum are all caused by tobacco use, according the report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC Vital Signs report found that every year from 2009 to 2013, about 660,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with a cancer related to tobacco use. About 343,000 people died each year from these cancers. "Three in ten cancer deaths were due to cigarette smoking," said the report. Lung cancer is the top cause of tobacco related smoking, followed by colon cancer and pancreatic cancer.