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

Despite Decades of Health Warnings, Older Adults Continue to Smoke
Tuesday. May 15, 2007

Axler, Francine
(215) 985-2521

Philadelphia— Despite known health risks and warnings, smoking among older adults (age 60+) remains steady, according to new data just released by the Philadelphia Health Management Corporation (PHMC).


 “It’s been more than 40 years since the U.S. surgeon general first warned about smoking,” said Francine Axler, Senior Research Associate, PHMC. “And many older adults began smoking before these harmful effects were well understood and widely known. Today, their generation may be experiencing a range of smoking-related health problems.”


Smoking at all ages puts individuals at increased risk for health problems such as cardiovascular disease. However, according to the American Lung Association, smokers aged 65+ have a 60% increased risk of dying from a heart attack, compared to their non-smoking peers. Male smokers 65+ are twice as likely as non-smokers to die from a stroke. For female smokers age 65+, the risk of death from stroke is about one and a half times higher than that for their non-smoking counterparts. Older smokers are also more likely to suffer from smoking-related illnesses. 


Smoking Among Older Adults In SEPA

According to data from PHMC’s Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) Household Health Survey, the percentage of older adults (60+) who smoke has declined from over 15% in 1994, but remained steady at about 12% since 2000.  Overall for adults 18 years and older, the rate has decreased slightly from 26.8% in 1991 to 21.0% in 2006.


Among older adults, the 2006 survey reported that 12.1% smoke cigarettes everyday or on some days. About 2% reported using tobacco products other than cigarettes.


The 2006 Household Health Survey also showed certain populations in SEPA were more or less likely to smoke than others, specifically:


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

-          African-American (18.1%) and Latino (12.6%) older adults were more likely than white older adults (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.

-          Among older adults 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.


Smoking Cessation

The PHMC survey also collected information on smoking cessation, which is known to have major and immediate health benefits for men and women of all ages--even older adults who have smoked for many years will enjoy some health benefits from quitting.


In SEPA, among adults that attempted to quit smoking:



-          Older adults were less likely to have tried to quit smoking in the past year than younger smokers:  50.5% (60+ years), 53.4% (50-59 years), 52.4% (40-49 years), 59.9% (30-39 years), 64.8% (18-29 years).

-          Half of current smokers aged 60+ (50.3%) tried quit smoking in the previous year.

-          61.2% of current older adult smokers attempted quitting “cold turkey” in the previous year, while 31.2% tried to quit by using the nicotine patch, nicotine gum, and medications such as Zyban.

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


For more information on smoking among older adults in SEPA, contact Francine Axler, senior research associate, at 215-985-2521 or  Additional Survey findings are located online at


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PHMC is a non-profit, public health institute that builds healthier communities through partnerships with government, foundations, businesses and other community-based organizations. For more information on PHMC, visit The Household Health Survey is conducted by PHMC’s Community Health Data Base Project, which is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The William Penn Foundation, The United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and a variety of participating agencies from the health, government, nonprofit, and academic sectors.