Magazine article Science News

Smokers Who Quit Will Breathe Easier

Magazine article Science News

Smokers Who Quit Will Breathe Easier

Article excerpt

Middle-aged smokers who kick the cigarette habit can stave off a deadly lung disease, according to a study published this week.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, occurs almost exclusively in smokers. It is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, killing about 90,000 Americans each year.

Nicholas R. Anthonisen of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and his colleagues at 10 clinical centers in the United States and Canada began the Lung Health Study by recruiting 5,887 smokers, age 35 to 60, with mild airway obstruction but no noticeable breathing trouble. The recruits were all at high risk of developing full-blown chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is characterized by lung tissue damage and airway narrowing.

The team randomly assigned volunteers to one of three groups. One group underwent an aggressive smoking cessation program and received a prescription broncholdilator that, when inhaled, opens the lung's airways. Another group participated in the antismoking program but got a placebo inhaler with an inactive solution. The final group received the usual care for people at risk of this disease -- advice to stop smoking.

About 22 percent of the people in the antismoking programs successfully quit their habit, compared to 6 percent of people in the usual care group.

During the study, the researchers monitored lung function, or the ability to move air in and out of the lungs. As time goes on, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may experience breathlessness when walking even a short distance. Eventually, they may become bedridden and require the administration of oxygen.

At the end of 5 years, the researchers found significantly less loss of lung function in the smoking cessation groups than in the usual care group. …

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