Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the US. According to the American Lung Association, more than 438,000 people will die from tobacco-caused disease and 8.6 million people have at least one serious illness caused by smoking . There are several products and policies in place to help people quit smoking, but smoking cessation continues to be a difficult change for many.

A recent study in BMJ (British Medical Journal) , reported promising results when using “lung age” as an incentive to quit smoking. The lung age was determined using a simple device called a spirometer, to measure the ability of the lungs to move air. The spirometer is most often used to determine the extent of damage in people with lung disease. In this case, the spirometer results were adjusted to calculate a lung age. Researchers found that participants who were given their lung age were more likely to quit smoking.

About the Study

All participants in this study were smokers over age 35. They had a lung function test called forced expiratory volume at one second (FEV1) that was done with a spirometer. Researchers studied the way results were given to determine what may motivate people to stop smoking.

Researchers randomly assigned 561 patients to one of two groups. Both had the same test, then:

  • Group 1—received lung test results verbally in terms of “lung age” immediately after taking the test
  • Group 2—received the test results as a numerical result sent in the mail.

Lung age was determined by a mathematical formula. It compares to the average age of a healthy non-smoking person who would have the same lung test. For example, a 50 year old smoker may be told she has the “lung age” of a 75 year old person.

The results are very interesting. Participants who received their results in terms of “lung age” quit smoking more than those who received numerical results in the mail. The rate of smoking cessation was 13.6% in the “lung age” group compared to only 6.4% in the mailed numerical result group. Also by the end of the trial average daily cigarette consumption was less in the lung age group.

Overall about 16% of the participants were diagnosed with obstructive lung disease during the trial.

How Does This Affect You?

Quitting smoking is a challenge. There are many methods to help you quit, but it is difficult to know which one is best for you. If you’ve tried to quit, try again, perhaps with another method. Talk to a health professional about your options. You can also ask your doctor to give you a simple spirometry test to get your lung age. It may be your motivating factor.