POSTED: Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 9:00am
UPDATED: Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 9:07am
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — New research shows smokers can expect to die much earlier than their non-smoking friends if they aren't able to quit the addiction early in life.
The American Cancer Society analyzed mortality trends among more than 2 million smokers for the past 50 years.
"The rates of deaths for both lung cancer and chronic lung disease, and in fact from all causes, have increased substantially in female smokers," says Dr. Len Lichtenfeld.
The research found both male and female smokers can expect to die a full decade earlier than their friends who've never smoked.
Similar studies done decades earlier didn't indicate such a huge impact on women.
"It looked like the effects on women weren't as bad as in men, and that was probably because women were just starting to smoke in large numbers, and they didn't smoke as heavily," notes Dr. Tim McAfee of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts also blame so-called "light" cigarettes favored among some women, which may have caused smokers to inhale more deeply to get their nicotine fix.
"They're getting more of that smoke into their lungs, and that smoke has a bad effect," Dr. Lichtenfeld says.
Because researchers also had enough data on quit attempts, they were able to find some good news.
"If somebody quits before the age of 40 they gain a lot of that back," Dr. McAfee says. "They gain almost a decade of life, which is incredible."
While quitting is important, experts say the best advice is to avoid smoking altogether.
Compared to non-smokers male and female smokers had nearly identical risks for lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease and heart disease.