Smoking Prevalence Among Older Adults Sees Slight Increase, Study Reveals

Smoking Prevalence Among Older Adults Sees Slight Increase, Study Reveals

Smoking cessation strategies older adults can explore

5 mins read

Public health programs and mass media campaigns highlighting the adverse health effects of tobacco have been effective in lowering smoking rates throughout the years. In fact, adult smoking prevalence in the US dropped to an all-time low this year, with 1 in 9 adults saying they were current smokers.

However, a study published in JAMA Health Forum notes that despite this downward trend across various age groups, prevalence estimates for adults over 65 remain an exception. From 2011 to 2022, smoking prevalence among older adults slightly increased from 8.7% to 9.4%, with the highest prevalence reported among those with incomes below the federal poverty level.

Such findings suggest a closer look into the distinct risk factors for smoking in old age and which strategies are available for older adult smokers who need to quit to improve their health and lifestyles.

Risk factors for smoking differ in old age

One reason older adults may be more vulnerable to harmful smoking behaviors is the fact that public health campaigns on tobacco control and prevention aren’t necessarily targeted toward their age group. Instead, these campaigns have focused on bringing down smoking rates among the youth. Research also suggests that elderly smoking can be associated with generational divides, as older Americans today have been exposed to tobacco before anti-smoking interventions were publicly available.

Additionally, a 2023 study in the Journal of Applied Gerontology found that social isolation due to health challenges, lack of social networks, and decreased mobility serves as a risk factor for smoking. Findings indicate that 17.1% of older adults in the US were socially isolated and more likely to smoke compared to their counterparts who had social interactions within their respective communities. Social isolation ranged from moderate, in which older adults only experienced interactions via phone but not in person, to severe, meaning they had no connection or interaction with anyone in the community.

These risk factors provide context to which evidence-based strategies can help older adults quit successfully and live smoke-free lifestyles, as discussed below.

Smoking cessation strategies older adults can explore

The generational patterns that contribute to elderly smoking rates can be addressed by making smoking cessation approaches such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) widely accessible. Compared to non-nicotine medications requiring prescription, most NRT products, such as Nicorette gums and NicoDerm CQ patches, are readily available in pharmacies, convenience stores, and online distribution channels.

Moreover, White Fox nicotine pouches, one of the top pouch brands on online retailer Prilla, can be tailored for older adults with heavy smoking history. These pouches are formulated with high-purity, pre-activated nicotine and are available in strengths up to 30 mg, relatively higher than other NRT brands. While flavored oral NRTs appeal to younger adult demographics, these pouches are centered on strong mint and tobacco flavors to help veteran smokers ease through the cessation process.

Behavioral interventions that complement pharmacotherapy also improve older adults’ smoking cessation outcomes. One such example is the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking program, which combines various effective cessation strategies to help participants quit all tobacco products. Besides informative resources and a Lung Helpline that connects smokers to health specialists, the program includes group programs. This option can particularly benefit older adults whose smoking behaviors are linked to social isolation and lack of a support system.

As the elderly demographic explores these smoking cessation approaches, they are also encouraged to adopt lifestyle changes that minimize the damaging effects of smoking and improve their health in the long term. On top of eating a nutritious and well-balanced diet, they can refer to a previous post on the ‘Benefits of Breathing Exercises’ to boost blood circulation and oxygen levels. Since smoking is known to impair lung function over time, these breathing exercises can help improve respiratory health and overall wellness.

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