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Senior Health

Tobacco Taboo

Did you know that smoking and tobacco use has been around for centuries? A quote by King James I (1566-1625) highlights the unpleasant aspects of smoking and served as a portent of health injury: "Smoking is hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs."


Tobacco Use and Consequences

While many older adults have successfully quit smoking, one in eight seniors continue to smoke.1 Perhaps these older smokers mistakenly believe the stereotypes and myths that exist such as "I'm too old to change" or "It's too late now."

Tobacco use and its consequences range from causing wrinkles to causing cancer, increasing risk of dementia, and significantly adding to the burgeoning cost of health care. Health professsionals can play an important role assisting older people to overcome ageist attitudes about change and tobacco use cessation. Some of the common and effective practices include providing evidence-based information, treatment, motivation, and follow-up services to seniors. Encourage seniors to take on the challenge to transition from the "way we were" to living a tobacco free, healthier life.

Do you remember when smoking was glamorized by the movie stars who smoked on screen and off? When political figures and sports heroes were shown smoking cigars or photographed with a "chaw" of tobacco between teeth and gum? Unfortunately, these behaviors were imitated by many with no thought to potential consequences. Today, we know of the serious health consequences for people who smoke or use tobacco in any form.

Check Your Smoking I.Q. 2

While many older people may think there is no point in quitting "at my age," by quitting, you will have fewer coughs and colds, and be more in control of your health. People who quit smoking reduce their chances of a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. Take this quiz then THINK AGAIN!


  1. If you have smoked for most of your life, it's not worth stopping now. T or F
  2. Most older smokers don't want to stop smoking. T or F
  3. Someone who has smoked For 30 or 40 years probably won't be able to quit. T or F
  4. Older smokers who try to quit are more likely to stay off cigarettes. T or F
  5. Quitting smoking can help those who have already had a heart attack T or F

Answers: Questions 1-3 are FALSE and both 4 and 5 are TRUE.

Science has brought about major changes in our thinking and behavior related to smoking and has resulted in a drastic reduction in smoking and exposure to second hand smoke. We understand the need to reduce or eliminate seniors' tobacco use because of their increased vulnerability to health consequences as a result of natural aging changes.

Documented evidence indicates that brief interventions, even 3 minutes' duration, wherein the health professional urges the individual to quit, can significantly influence cessation success. A suggested guideline using brief interventions from the Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service (Fiore et al, 2000) addresses all smokers. Tobacco users need to be provided with either a brief effective intervention for cessation or if unwilling to quit, an intervention for increasing the desire to quit. The 5As for those willing to quit include:

The 5Rs for those not ready to quit include:

Evelyn's Picks



  1. Mauk, K. (2006). Gerontological Nursing: Competencies for Care. New York: Jones and Bartlett Pub.
  2. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute - www.wramc.amedd.army.mil/education/smoking.html.
  3. Fiore et al (2000). Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update. Rockville, MD: U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, Public Health.

GERO GEMS are a monthly publication of the Center for Aging with Dignity. Compiled by Evelyn Fitzwater, Gero Gems is designed to raise awareness of aging and related issues impacting health care professionals and our society as a whole.

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Last Reviewed: Aug 02, 2010

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati