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Mayo Clinic expert highlights it's never 'too late' to quit smoking

“I’m trying to work myself out of a job,” Hays said in a Wednesday briefing the day before the annual American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout.

young man smoking
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ROCHESTER — Dr. J. Taylor Hays is trying to make his field irrelevant.

Hays is the associate director at the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependence Center .

“I’m trying to work myself out of a job,” he said in a Wednesday briefing the day before the annual American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout .

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Despite steep drops in tobacco use, tobacco-related illnesses are still the top preventable cause of death in the United States, Hays said.

Quitting smoking is the only way to halt progression of smoking-related lung diseases, Hays said.


Even people who have smoked for decades can see health benefits from quitting, he added.

Statistically, people can add 10 years of life and smokers more than 60 years old statistically add about five years to their lives after they quit.

“The benefits start as soon as you quit,” Hays said. “No matter what age, you’ll gain some benefit — years of life or years of quality of life.”

Taylor Hays
Dr. Taylor Hays

The Great American Smokeout, held on the third Thursday in November, is a nationwide initiative to encourage people to quit using tobacco or make a plan to quit.

Hays said progress has been made in reducing smoking in the U.S. the last three decades. However, that success has led to some complacency and the mistaken impression that smoking is no longer a threat to public health in the U.S., Hays said.

“We’re not done with it,” he said. “We still have a long way to go.”

The prevalence of smoking has dropped sharply since the 1980s, Hays said. Then, slightly more than 30% of adults reported regularly smoking. Today, that rate is about 13% to 14%. However, there are large disparities depending on where people live and their education level, he added.

The rise in vaping has led to a small resurgence of tobacco use among teens, Hays said. Vaping and flavored cigars are the two top choices for teens who use tobacco, he added.


Hays said laws restricting flavors added to tobacco and vape products and restricting the age to purchase those to 21 and older would help curtail teen tobacco use.

Hays said it’s unclear if vape use leads to tobacco use.

“It leaves open the question of what will happen in the next five to 10 years,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re doing the experiment on our kids.”

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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