We hear a lot about young people and smoking, and for good reason.

Tobacco use is the No. 1 preventable cause of death, and keeping young people from smoking or getting them to quit if they start not only improves the quality of their lives, but also saves the rest of us a lot of money in avoided medical bills.

But that’s no reason to neglect older smokers, who also get tremendous health benefits from quitting, no matter how late in life they do it. Still, until recently, Medicare, unlike most private insurance companies, did not offer free smoking cessation counseling among its benefits.

Fortunately, that’s changing. As part of the national health care overhaul, preventative services under Medicare will be fully covered starting next year, giving more doctors the incentive to work with their older patients who smoke.

These are, for the most part, hardened smokers who have resisted decades of warnings and, in many cases, have witnessed the smoking-related deaths of people in their lives. They may think that there is no point in quitting now because the damage has already been done.

According to recent research, smokers over age 65 are less likely to attempt quitting than their younger counterparts, but they are twice as likely to quit successfully. There are a number of theories as to why that may be true, but regardless of the reason, this is an opportunity for a public health success that should not be missed.

Smokers who quit not only live longer than those who don’t, but they are healthier while they are alive. This is just as true for people over age 65 as it is for teenagers.

Health care providers should take advantage of the new Medicare stop-smoking benefit and do something positive for their elderly patients.


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