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Community Health Data Base
An Information Service of the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation

Cigarette Smoking Among Adults Ages 60 and Up
Tuesday. May 1, 2007


Smoking at all ages puts individuals at increased risk for health problems such as cardiovascular disease. Smokers aged 65 and above, however, have a 60% increased risk of dying from a heart attack, compared to their peers who do not smoke. Among men aged 65+, smokers are twice as likely as nonsmokers to die from a stroke. For women smokers aged 65+, the risk of death from stroke is about one and a half times higher than that for women nonsmokers (American Lung Association).
In view of the elevated health risks faced by smokers age 65 and beyond, younger adults who smoke cigarettes may want to take steps to quit smoking, especially since it often takes several attempts before a smoker succeeds at quitting. Given the harmful effects of cigarette smoking, even older adults who have smoked for many years will enjoy some health benefits from quitting.

PHMC’s 2006 Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) Household Health Survey collects data on cigarette smoking among older adults aged 60 and above. This article provides an overview of the demographic characteristics and health profile of older adult smokers (60+) in the region. In addition, this article examines  efforts to quit smoking in the past year and the prevalence of receiving smoking cessation advice from a health care professional.

In 2006, 12.1% of older adults aged 60+ reported smoking cigarettes everyday or on some days. This percentage represents about 86,600 older adults in SEPA. A small minority of older adults (2.2%) report using tobacco products other than cigarettes.

- Men aged 60+ (12.9%) were slightly more likely than women (11.5%) to smoke cigarettes everyday or on some days.

- African-American/Black (18.1%) and Latino (12.6%) older adults were more likely than their White counterparts (10.5%) to smoke cigarettes everyday or on some days.

- Poor older adults (18.9%) were more likely than non-poor older adults (11.4%) to smoke cigarettes everyday or on some days.

In SEPA, 40.4% of older adult smokers reported fair or poor health, compared to 31.1% of older adults who are ex-smokers or nonsmokers. Among older adults (60+) who reported smoking everyday or on some days, 53.1% have had a diagnosis of high blood pressure, 41.1% have had high blood cholesterol, and 15.8% have had diabetes.

In 2006, about one in two current smokers aged 60+ (50.3%) had tried to quit smoking in the previous year.

Six out of ten current smokers who attempted quitting (61.2%) tried to quit “cold turkey” in the previous year, while three out of ten (31.2%) tried to quit by using the nicotine patch, nicotine gum, and medications such as Zyban.

- African-American/Black smokers aged 60+ (60.3%) were more likely than White smokers (45.7%) to attempt smoking cessation in the past year.

- Among smokers aged 60+ who tried to quit, African-American/Black smokers were more likely than White smokers to quit cold turkey (68.6% vs. 55.1%).

Among older adult respondents in SEPA who were no longer smoking at the time of survey, 4.3% reported quitting less than or up to one year ago. A minority (6.4%) reported quitting between one and five years ago. Majority of former smokers aged 60+ (80.8%) had quit smoking at least 10 years ago.

Roughly three out of five smokers aged 60+ (64.7%) had been advised by a health professional or doctor to quit smoking in the previous year.

- African-American/Black older adults (68.4%) were more likely than White older adults (63.3%) to have received advice from a health professional or doctor in the previous year encouraging them to quit smoking.

- Older adult women smokers (68.4%) were more likely than older adult men smokers (60.0%) to have received smoking cessation advice from a health professional or doctor in the previous year.


Data from the 2006 Household Health Survey indicate that older adults who smoke cigarettes in SEPA are more likely to be African-American/Black and to live below the federal poverty level*. Compared to White older adult smokers, African-American/Black older adults who smoke were more likely to have received advice to quit smoking in the past year. A significant proportion of older adults who smoke are in fair or poor health. Notably, many older adult smokers tried to quit smoking on their own without any assistance in the previous year.

For older adults with specific health conditions, learning about the benefits of smoking cessation could increase their motivation to quit. Specifically, older adult smokers with high blood pressure and/or cholesterol can reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease by quitting smoking, in addition to keeping these conditions under control. Additionally, older adult smokers with diabetes can reduce their heightened risk for heart attack and stroke, as well as diabetic complications, if they stop smoking.

For more information on the findings presented in this article, please contact Community Health Data Base staff members Xuan-Shi Lim,, or Allegra Gordon,

*Household income below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level.

Data for Asian older adults are not reported in this article due to a small sample size. In some sections, data for Latino older adults are excluded for the same reason.

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