Smoking: Why You Should Quit

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Smoking, thankfully, has become much less common in this country over the past three decades. However, many of us in the older generation – the demographic at highest risk for osteoporosis – started smoking years ago, when it wasn’t considered dangerous.

    And sadly, despite overwhelming evidence that smoking is bad for your health, some of us have never managed to quit.

    The following FAQS may give you the push you finally need – and the resources – to crush the smoking habit for good.

    Q. I know smoking is bad for my lungs. How does it affect my bones?

    A. Several ways. First, it affects your circulation, and deprives bone cells of the oxygen and other nutrients they need in order to grow. Smoking also affects your lungs, which in turn impairs your ability to exercise – and we all know how important exercise is to bone health.

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    Next, smoking affects your body’s ability to absorb calcium, critical to building bones and maintaining their health. Smoking interferes with how your body uses vitamin D – and without vitamin D, calcium can’t do its work.

    Most important, perhaps, smoking lowers both women’s and men’s production of estrogen, a key bone-building hormone. People who smoke have less circulating estrogen in their bodies; and, women who smoke go through menopause an average of 5 years earlier than non-smokers.

    Menopause reduces estrogen production significantly; so early menopause means your bones are without estrogen’s benefits years longer than in women who go through menopause later. You may feel that smoking is aging you prematurely, looks-wise; but count on it, it’s definitely aging your bones.

    Still not convinced? Here are some statistics gathered by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center that should make you think twice about smoking:
    •Smoking after age 30 increases your rate of bone loss; smokers lose bone up to twice as fast as non-smokers;
    •If you smoke, you’re 2 ½ times more likely to get osteoporosis than a non-smoker;
    •Women who smoke have 15% to 30% lower bone density than non-smokers, men who smoke, 10% to 20% lower bone density than their non-smoking counterparts;
    •Smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely than non-smokers to suffer a hip fracture, the most devastating of the osteoporosis-related fractures.

    Q. I’ve been smoking for years. Is the damage already done, or is it reversible?

    A. To some extent, the damage is done; you’ve been hurting your bones for as long as you’ve been smoking. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Web site, “The longer you smoke and the more cigarettes you consume, the greater your risk of fracture in old age.”

    However, the NIH also states that “Quitting smoking appears to reduce the risk of low bone mass and fractures,” adding that it may take several years to lower a former smoker’s risk. While quitting smoking may never give you the healthy bones of a non-smoker, studies show that some of the damage is reversible.

    Q. I’ve tried to quit before… It’s just so hard!


  • A. Help is widely available. If you’re ready to give it a try, the following organizations and Web sites will help you quit smoking:

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    •If you’re an older smoker, Medicare Preventive Services will cover up to eight sessions per year with a smoking cessation counselor. Call 1-800-MEDICARE (633-4227) for the particulars.

    •The federal government has a couple of comprehensive, user-friendly sites: smokefree.gov (for all smokers); and SmokefreeWomen (especially for women).

    Stop Smoking Help, a 20-year-old organization devoted to helping people to stop smoking, has a wealth of valuable links on their Web site, including links to clinical trials around smoking cessation; and a huge number of government and non-profit resources.

    The North American Quitline Consortium is an international non-profit offering smoking cessation services to smokers in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Call their toll-free number, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, to be directed to resources right in your own state or province.

    •For information on smoking issues specific to African-Americans, check out the Centers for Disease Control’s Pathways to Freedom: Winning the Fight Against Tobacco. Available in hard copy, or as a downloadable PDF.

    •The National Women’s Health Information Center offers an online education and support program especially for women, Smoking and How to Quit. The site includes an interactive forum where you can share your concerns and successes, and hear from other women about what’s worked for them.

Published On: October 22, 2010