A Review of Smoking in the Elderly

D'Arcy Little, MD, CCFP, Lecturer and Academic Fellow, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto; Director of Medical Education, York Community Services; 2002 Royal Canadian Legion Fellow in Care of Elderly at Baycrest Centre, Toronto, ON.

Prevalence of Smoking in the Elderly
Smoking is one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality in Canada. In fact, it has been called the leading preventable cause of death in North America.1 This is because smoking is a known risk factor for four of the leading causes of death in the industrialized world--coronary heart disease, cancer, lung disease and stroke--and because it contributes to many other causes of morbidity.2 While the current prevalence of smoking in Canadians aged 15 years and older declined by 10.3% between 1985 and 1999, the numbers remain high for both men and women (26.8% and 22.9%, respectively, in 1999).3 In those aged 65 and older, current smoking prevalence decreased by 8.9% over the same time period. However, it is estimated that 11.6% of seniors continue to smoke. The prevalence of smoking is highest in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec, and lowest in Saskatchewan and Ontario.4

Impact of Smoking on Health of the Elderly

The health-related impact of smoking in the elderly is manifold. The increase in mortality has already been mentioned.