Can Quitting Counteract Decades of Smoking?

Wednesday, 03 Apr 2013 10:10 AM

By Peter Hibberd, M.D.

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Question: I quit smoking three years ago after a 45-year habit (smoking one to four packs a day). I feel just fine and have never had a sick day in my adult life. I have been told that after 5 years of being a non-smoker, my body is as good as if I had never smoked. Is this true?

Dr. Hibberd’s answer:
 
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that you have now stopped compounding your lifetime risk of increased atherosclerosis, stroke, heart attack, vascular disease, and cancer. But your baseline risks of developing these diseases will necessarily still be higher than someone who never smoked, based on your 45 years of smoking, which has definitely caused irreversible damage.
 
After a 20-year habit, side effects such as irreversible lung damage and premature vascular disease, have already started to occur. So unfortunately, your body is not nearly as healthy as you would have been as a non-smoker.
 
But your rate of disease progression will normalize to a non-smoker's rate after 5 years of abstinence. Simply said, it is never too late to quit. Congratulations.

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