Announcer: Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. Since the 1960s, scientists have reported on the link between cancer and smoking. If you smoke, you are at much higher risk for lung cancer than a person who has never smoked. If you quit smoking, you greatly reduce your risk, even if you have smoked for a long time.
Dr. Scott Leischow: Quitting smoking is hard for most smokers and it's hard whether they've been smoking five years, it's hard if they've been smoking for 40 years. Nicotine addiction is a very serious addiction and in many cases requires a person get help from a health care provider. So I don't want to make it sound like an easy process. But having said that, a person can quit at any age -- they should quit at any age and there are plenty of places senior citizens can go for help to quit smoking.
Announcer: To help older people quit smoking, the National Cancer Institute maintains a website with a section that is geared especially for people over 50.
Dr. Leischow: They can go to our website, which is smokefree.gov and they can get information on quitting smoking, and in fact, on that website, we have a manual just for people that are over 50 to help them quit smoking. I mean, one of the key areas that we try to address with senior citizens quitting smoking are other medications that they may be using in addition to the medications they may use for smoking cessation, so a senior citizen who's on medications for hypertension, or the like, and want to use a medication for smoking cessation should see their health care provider, just to find out if there are going to be any interactions that might cause any problems.
We talk a lot about social support systems and how seniors can help seniors to quit and to work together in the community to make quitting a little bit easier, so it's strategies like that, that they can use, most of which are not dramatically different from people under 50, say, but we tailor the intervention in that manual, in that website, for them specifically. One immediate benefit of quitting smoking for even a senior citizen is that when they reduce the carbon monoxide that comes with smoking, they reduce the demand on their heart. When you breathe carbon monoxide into your bloodstream it makes your heart work that much harder and if you take away that carbon monoxide it reduces the demand on the heart and immediately reduces the risk of a heart attack.
Announcer: This demonstration shows how smoking taxes the heart and constricts the arteries. Here is a normal hand. The various warm colors show where oxygen-rich blood is passing through the arteries and capillaries. After one cigarette, nicotine constricts the blood vessels, oxygen diminishes, blood pressure rises, straining the heart. The reds have disappeared and the fingers no longer register on the screen as skin temperature continues to drop.
Dr. Leischow: Quitting smoking is not just about cancer, not just about heart disease, it's about overall health and what we can do to make our life as long and have the highest quality of life possible.
Announcer: A person's quality of life can also be affected by second-hand smoke, the smoke that non-smokers are exposed to when they share air space with someone who smokes.
Dr. Leischow: We encourage senior citizens, as well as others, to in particular not smoke in rooms where children are. I mean, certainly we want everybody to quit smoking. But if people do smoke, they shouldn't be in rooms where -- they shouldn't have children in those same rooms because it really particularly affects -- it increases their chances for developing asthma as well as disease down the road.
Teacher: Okay, kids, take your seats -- let's get started. Who can tell me what's the worst thing about second-hand smoke?
Boy: Well, it makes me cough and when I start coughing it just keeps going and going and going.
Boy: I sneeze and my eyes get watery.
Boy: My eyes get watery also, but I don't sneeze.
Dr. Leischow: Quitting smoking is the single most important thing that senior citizens can do to improve their health right now and we strongly encourage them to do that.