CHICAGO, — Motives for quitting smoking — and barriers to it — vary according to age, researchers have said.If they are motivated, patients older than 65 can stop smoking as easily as younger patients — and they are more likely to stay off tobacco, according to Virginia Reichert, a nurse practitioner at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.

That was one of the big differences between age groups she and colleagues found when they analyzed records of 2,052 patients who went through an intensive six-week stop-smoking program at her institution last year.

“There’s a common misperception that if a person hasn’t quit by now, they aren’t going to,” she said, “and that isn’t true.”

At 30 days after the end of the program, the quit rate was virtually identical, at about 58%, Reichert said at the meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.

But after a year of follow-up, 52% of the 143 participants older than 65 remained off cigarettes, compared with 35% of those younger, Reichert said.

The finding, she said, makes sense. “As you get older you’re able to fight your addictions a little bit better.” The message for clinicians, she said, is that it’s never too late for a patient to quit smoking.The investigators also found:

  • Among the younger group, 29% saw possible weight gain as a barrier to stopping, compared with 15% of the over-65s.
  • 81% of the younger smokers wanted to quit because of general health concerns, compared with 68% of the older cohort.
  • Only 19% of the younger smokers were quitting because of pressure from their doctors, compared with 32% of the older group. Interestingly, there was no significant difference in the proportions who gave pressure from family or friends as a reason to quit.
  • More younger smokers cited the expense of cigarettes, at 37% versus 22%

A major obstacle to successful quitting was the presence of another smoker at home, but that was significantly greater in the younger cohort (18% versus 9% ).

Again, that makes sense, Reichert said: “Many older people live alone.”

The study has a “tremendous amount of material,” commented Frank Leone, M.D., of the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia, who moderated a press conference at which Reichert spoke.

Dr. Leone, who was not part of the study, said one implication of the findings is that smoking-cessation programs should take into account differing barriers and motivations.

The data are “another step toward individualizing, more finely tailoring the kinds of interventions used,” he said.

The bottom line here is that it is never too late to try to quit. The ramifications of quitting can be seen almost immediately.