The Epidemiology of Smoking in Older Adults: A National Cohort Study

J Gen Intern Med. 2022 Dec 20. doi: 10.1007/s11606-022-07980-w. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: Older smokers account for the greatest tobacco-related morbidity and mortality in the USA, while quitting smoking remains the single most effective preventive health intervention for reducing the risk of smoking-related illness. Yet, knowledge about patterns of smoking and smoking cessation in older adults is lacking.

Objective: Assess trends in prevalence of cigarette smoking between 1998 and 2018 and identify patterns and predictors of smoking cessation in US older adults.

Design: Retrospective cohort study PARTICIPANTS: Individuals aged 55+ enrolled in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study, 1998-2018 MAIN MEASURES: Current smoking was assessed with the question: "Do you smoke cigarettes now?" Quitting smoking was defined as having at least two consecutive waves (between 2 and 4 years) in which participants who were current smokers in 1998 reported they were not currently smoking in subsequent waves.

Key results: Age-adjusted smoking prevalence decreased from 15.9% in 1998 (95% confidence interval (CI) 15.2, 16.7) to 11.2% in 2018 (95% CI 10.4, 12.1). Among 2187 current smokers in 1998 (mean age 64, 56% female), 56% of those living to age 90 had a sustained period of smoking cessation. Smoking less than 10 cigarettes/day was strongly associated with an increased likelihood of quitting smoking (subdistribution hazard ratio 2.3; 95% CI 1.9, 2.8), compared to those who smoked more than 20 cigarettes/day.

Conclusions: Smoking prevalence among older persons has declined and substantial numbers of older smokers succeed in quitting smoking for a sustained period. These findings highlight the need for continued aggressive efforts at tobacco cessation among older persons.

Keywords: epidemiology; geriatrics; public health; smoking.