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Teen Smoking Slashes Lifespan—Even for Quitters

Just a short spell of early smoking puts you at greater risk of premature death decades later, researchers find.

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By Bryan Le

10/04/12

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Being a teenaged smoker increases your chances of an early death from heart disease years later—even if you quit before you're middle-aged, shows a new study. It analyzed data from 28,000 men who went to Harvard between 1916 and 1950, then took follow-up surveys in later decades. Those who reported early smoking were twice as likely to die prematurely as those who never smoked. But those who smoked young, then quit remained at 29% higher risk than those who never started. Still, quitting is worthwhile. "The risks are cumulative," says David Batty, who worked on the study at University College London. "If you smoke across a life course, you're at much higher risk than if you just smoked around the college years. The positive message is, it's never too late to stop.” Dr. Michael Siegel, a tobacco control researcher, agrees: "For people who did quit smoking during the follow-up period, their risk of death dropped greatly. It doesn't quite go back to [non-smokers' risk], but it is significantly less." He says that only around 3% of smokers quit every year.

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