Women who quit smoking before 40 may avoid earlier death

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Darlene Karoly, a graphics production artist from Cleveland, had been smoking for over 20 years -- and trying to quit for the last 15.

"I tried the patch, I tried the gum, I tried hypnosis, I tried willpower, I tried cutting down cold turkey, I tried Wellbutrin, I've tried Chantix. The American lung Association has a program, I tried that. I've tried everything and I've tried most things multiple times," the 49-year-old admitted.

She stopped about 70 days ago thanks to a smoking cessation counselor from Cleveland Clinic, and although a smoker since 20, a new study reveals that quitting may have added years to Karoly's life.

In posssiby the largest study ever on the hazards of smoking and benefits of stopping, researchers found that smokers lose at least 10 years of their lives due to their habit. The good news is the earlier they quit the better. Women who successfully quit before 40 avoided 90 percent of the added risk of early death caused by smoking, while stopping before 30 helped women avoid 97 percent of the added risk.

"If women smoke like men, they die like men - but, whether they are men or women, smokers who stop before reaching middle age will on average gain about an extra ten years of life," co-author Richard Peto, professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England, said in the press release.

The research looked at the Million Women Study, which involved1.3 women in the U.K. between the ages of 50 to 65 years during 1996 through 2001. Women were surveyed about their lifestyle, medical and social factors and then surveyed  again three years after their first questionnaire.

They were also monitored via the National Health Services central register, which told researchers when patients died and cause of death. Researchers also followed-up with patients an average of 12 years after joining the study to see if they were alive.

Twenty percent of the study pool were smokers, 28 percent were ex-smokers and 52 percent had never smoked. Those who were still smoking at the time of the three-year follow-up questionnaire where three times more likely to die over the next nine years than nonsmokers, even though some had reduced their risk by temporarily quitting between the first and second survey.

According to the results, two-thirds of all the deaths of smokers in their 50s, 60s and 70s were caused by smoking: Risk of dying from a smoking-related disease like lung cancer, chronic lung disease, heart disease, or stroke went up with the amount of cigarettes they consumed. But, even light smokers who smoked one to nine cigarettes a day were twice as likely to die than those who didn't smoke at all.

Dr. Sumita Khatri , head of Cleveland Clinic's Asthma Center and board member for the American Lung Association said to CBSNews.com that this study was unique not only because it looked at a large number of subjects, but because it focused on women whereas most smoking studies looked at men. The results however showed that smoking cuts years from your life, regardless if you are a man or a woman.

"Being an advocate for women, we deserve all the same rights as men, but this is one way we don't want to be the same as men," she said.

She said in addition to all the lung problems that smoking causes, it can also affect blood vessels, cause aneurisms in a person's chest and block blood flow, which most people don't realize.

The takeaway from the study is that it's never too late to quit, even if you reach middle years, she pointed out.

"The sooner you quit, the better," she said. "And, also, not smoking at all would be really good."

The study was published online on Oct. 27 in The Lancet.

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