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Seniors and Tobacco

older adults laughing and smiling

Many long-term smokers may have been smoking for decades, starting when it was fashionable and when people were less aware of the harmful effects...

It's never too late to quit!

And the health and financial benefits of butting out are dramatic and immediate!

Giving up smoking can be one of the most difficult, yet rewarding lifestyle changes to make. Many long-term smokers may have been smoking for decades, starting when it was fashionable and when people were less aware of the harmful effects smoking can have on their health. It's never too late to quit! And the health and financial benefits of butting out are dramatic and immediate!

  • Why quit if you are an older adult?
  • It is never too late to quit
  • Managing your cravings
  • Where can you get help to quit?
  • Facts

Meet a BC senior who is a successful quitter: Pamela Wray

Pam was 72 years old when she quit. She had smoked for over half a century. Pam had wanted to give up smoking before, especially when her son Shane quit, but she finally decided to do so one chilly evening when it was 40 below and she couldn't justify warming up her car for 20 minutes to get cigarettes. Pam entered the QuitNow and Win contest. She threw away the rolling papers, washed and hid the ashtrays and anything else she thought might tempt her to change her mind. . . and, after 58 years of smoking, she became a non-smoker. Her two best friends, ages 54 and 65, also quit so that they could continue to spend time with her, and another friend became her support buddy during the QuitNow & WIN contest, someone she could call anytime she had cravings and who would help her overcome them. Quitting is contagious! You never know what impact you will have on others. Since Pam became a non-smoker, her eldest son and his wife both quit!

Pam recommends: 'Prepare for the day you quit!'

I was prepared mentally because I knew I would have a much better quality of life if I quit smoking. ' 'I was also prepared physically because I had started to exercise. Ailments not attributed to any other illnesses disappeared and I was able to walk further. My stamina increased, my blood pressure dropped and I started to value my health, and myself, more. I gained a sense of pride in my successes.' Pam also asked her doctor for help. She suggests telling your doctor about your decision to quit, and having him or her offer support before and after quitting.

Why quit if you are an older adult and have smoked for a long time?

  • Smoking as a senior can cause higher rates of physical disability and lower levels of energy.
  • In addition to breathing in as many as 4000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke, smoking robs your body of vitamins and antioxidants.
  • Smoking speeds up the loss of bone density, muscle strength and breathing capacity and reduces the body's ability to heal.
  • Many smokers also experience higher levels of depression.
  • Being a smoker not only has the potential to reduce your quality of life in later years, smoking also shortens your life.

There are numerous benefits to giving up smoking.


  • 20 minutes your blood pressure and pulse rate decrease
  • 8 hours carbon monoxide levels drop and the oxygen level in your blood increases to normal
  • 1 day the likelihood of a heart attack decreases
  • 2 days your sense of smell and taste begin to improve
  • 2 weeks circulation and lung function improve
  • 6 months coughing, sinus congestion, tiredness and shortness of breath is reduced

And these are just the short term health benefits.

Further health improvements include: better skin tone, more desire and ability to exercise, fewer chances of getting an infection, improved short term healing and less risk of having a stroke.

Seniors have expressed time and time again that they want to remain independent for as long as possible. Giving up smoking helps your body remain healthy and strong which leads to longer independence.

It is never too late to quit and there is lots of support to do so! Preparing to quit:

  • Prepare yourself mentally: imagine yourself as a non-smoker and see yourself in various social situations not smoking
  • Prepare yourself physically: this may include seeing your doctor and getting medication to help you quit
  • Tell your family doctor about your decision to quit
  • Set a date
  • Tell your friends
  • Know what triggers your smoking.

Early days of quitting:

  • Connect with others who have quit for moral support.
  • Set aside the money you would have spent on tobacco. Treat yourself to something special after your first week as a non-smoker.
  • Use this opportunity to learn about yourself and see it as a time of personal growth.
  • Take up something new.

Relapse prevention:

  • Speak to yourself in a positive way to help you overcome cravings.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Eat fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Keep yourself mentally and physically busy.

Pam says: 'Quitting was difficult, but I was aware of what triggered my smoking and I was tired of the stink, the cost and the coughing.'

Pam had been a heavy smoker, especially in times of great stress or discomfort, and she had tried to quit before, but she got sick on her first quit attempt as her body tried to adjust. This time, however, knowing that the illness would not last long and that she would feel so much better after she stopped smoking, Pam persisted.

Managing your cravings: Pam's experience of quitting

'After I quit I managed my cravings by taking a deep breath and talking to myself. At first I had to keep my hands busy so I played games on the computer, and did a lot of baking, cooking and cleaning. I also read lots of books on health and healing.'

'I did not gain weight because I quit. Being more aware of what types of food I was eating, drinking more water, and working out, I actually lost weight!'

Like Pam, keep the 4 Ds in mind when you have a craving.

  • Delay: the worst cravings last for only a short while and will occur less often the longer you remain tobacco free.
  • Deep breathe: to help you relax.
  • Drink water: to help flush your system and focus your mind on being healthy.
  • Do something else: you could go for a walk, talk to a supportive friend, or eat a fresh fruit or vegetable snack.

Drinking lots of water, eating fresh fruit and vegetables and walking more will keep you healthy and regular while your body adjusts to a new routine!

Pam says:

'My body feels different now: I don't wake up with a toxic taste in my mouth and I enjoy a level of activity I didn't know was possible. I am proud of myself and I want to continue feeling good about myself. I never want to be a slave to any addiction again, nor do I want to feel as sluggish as I did before.'

Where can you get help to quit?

QuitNow By Phone at 1-877-455-2233 FREE telephone counselling 24/7 in 130 languages. Highlights of the helpline include:

  • Care coaches who are specially trained to help you quit smoking
  • Personalized programs based on your needs
  • Specially designed reading material available to help you quit
  • TTY service for the deaf and hearing impaired
  • A personalized program will be created for you based on your personal needs. The phone team will listen, support and provide much needed reinforcement when you are attempting to quit smoking QuitNow Online at for FREE web-based help for quitting smoking 24/7.

Highlights of the website include:

  • Quit Gadget calculates the money and lifetime you've saved - up to the minute
  • Self assessment quizzes help you plan and pick a quit date
  • Quit Journal to record your progress
  • Quit-Tips emailed directly to your computer
  • The Quit Medication Guide offers extensive information on quitting medication
  • Get help choosing the right Quit Med for you, from the online experts
  • Visit clubs and special topic forums for fun, education, and assistance
  • Enjoy real time connections with other ex-smokers in our chat rooms, and make lifelong friends
  • Contact your quit-buddies privately, with the internal Q-mail system

Health Canada also has a website with quit smoking aids available such as On the Road to Quitting - Guide to becoming a non-smoker. This site also discusses how to deal with withdrawal. Talk to your friends, your work colleagues and your doctor.

Pam says: 'Tobacco was involved in almost all of the ailments I had and suffered from. Since I quit I have become so much healthier in all ways.' Her advice to other older smokers who want to quit: 'Try to get fit with activities you are able to enjoy, one step at a time. Throw away the junk food. After a while it seems redundant to smoke. . . Besides food tastes better and your sense of smell returns.' Pam says: 'We all have people we love and who look up to us, so we need to be a good example to them and to future generations.' Pam's children are so proud of their non-smoking mother!


  • Cigarette smoking is associated with the top three causes of death in Canada.
  • Long-term smokers experience more short term health gains and absolute benefits from quitting because they are at a greater risk of illness than younger people.
  • Eight of the 14 leading causes of death in older adults are associated with cigarette smoking.
  • Smoking may reduce the effectiveness of medication.
  • Smoking can also make impotence, glaucoma and gum disease worse.

Pam's final words: 'It's never too late to quit! Regardless of your age you will benefit so much by quitting: financially, physically and psychologically. No matter what your health situation, lack of smoking will ultimately make you feel better, smell better, look better and . . .there will be more money in your wallet!' If Pam, with her 58 year smoking record, can quit, you can do it too!

Learn more at Seniors BC

Last Updated: August 2, 2013