Me: I am so sorry that since we last saw you your house burned down!
Patient: Thank you, I fell asleep with a cigarette in my hand. I was in the hospital for six weeks. I almost died. I still have lung problems from the smoke inhalation.
Me: That’s terrible! Ummm kinda awkward but I actually smell a strong tobacco odor right now. I don’t smoke….and we are the only two people in here….so.
Patient: Really!? You are going to get on my case for smoking? Haven’t I been through enough with the fire?
Me: But the fire was caused by…..never mind. Are you taking you blood pressure medicines?
The elderly and tobacco use
The dialogue above shows how addictive smoking can be. Even after a house fire, my patient was still unable to quit. It is a glimpse of how the mind can rationalize away a real threat so we can continue to enjoy ourselves. Doing this makes it difficult to see consequences of our actions.
When I was eight, I was a full fledged antitobacco crusader. My grandmothers, uncle and aunts smoked. I would obnoxiously comment every chance I got that smoking was bad and caused cancer. I would rattle off all the facts about the dangers of smoking that I had read in MY WEEKLY READER from school (Remember those?). The adults would politely smile that “quit bothering me kid” smile and reluctantly put out their cigarette until I left the room.
I never got anyone in my family to stop smoking with my anti-smoking tough love (bullying). Many of my loved ones eventually stopped smoking on their own to my surprise. Even more surprising was that MY WEEKLY READER was majority owned by a subsidiary of the second largest tobacco manufacturer in the US . But that’s another story.
What I did not know then (besides long division) was that older adults have a more difficult time quitting smoking than their younger counterparts. Sorry everybody I was just a kid.
There are a few reasons why it can be difficult for an older person to quit. Previous unsuccessful attempts, force of habit, and withdrawl symptoms from nicotine addiction all work against the older smoker. Some may feel the “damage is done” so quitting would not change anything.
However, trying to focus on the positives of quitting smoking, the National Institute of Health website offers some hope. If struggling with health problems, elderly smokers are happy to discover that their health will start improving almost immediately if they quit now. For example,
- 20 minutes after quitting, your heart rate drops to more normal levels.
- 12 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal.
- 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting, your heart attack risk begins to drop and your lung function begins to improve  .
For further information about smoking cessaction. Visit this link.
 Kurtz, Howard (Nov. 2, 1995) Weekly Reader Puffing for Tobacco? The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1995/11/02/weekly-reader-puffing-for-tobacco
 NIH, 2014 Quitting Smoking for Older Adults https://nihseniorhealth.gov/quittingsmoking/quittingwhenyoureolder/01.html