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Quitting smoking may yield health benefits for some people sooner than previously thought, according to new research presented this week at the American Heart Association scientific meeting.

Some smokers over age 65 who quit may be able to cut their risk of dying from heart-related problems to the level of people who have never smoked in as little as eight yearsmuch less than the 15 years researchers previously believed was needed to reduce their risk.

The researchers calculated the amount of time it would take to reduce a person’s risk of dying from heart disease to the level of lifelong nonsmokers if they had smoked less than 32 “pack years”3.2 packs a day for 10 years, or two packs a day for 16 years.

“The new finding is if you smoke less than 32 pack years, you might become like never-smokers much sooner than 15 years,” lead researcher Dr. Ali Ahmed of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine told Reuters. He found many smokers decreased their risk of dying from heart failure, heart attacks or strokes to the same level as people who never smoked in almost half the time as previous research suggested. “For half of them, it was eight years after cessation,” Ahmed said.

“Even for the heavier smokers, who smoked more than 32 pack years, compared to current smokers, they will significantly reduce the risk of total mortality by 35 percent (by quitting), so there’s a positive message for everybody,” he added.

People who quit smoking are still at risk of lung-related diseases, such as lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Ahmed noted.

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