If you smoke and you are under 35 you can still expect to live as long as someone who has never smoked if you quit now, a new study reveals.

Researchers said that in their studies, only the people who had given up smoking 15 years or more before they began their study had any chance of a similar life expectancy of a lifelong non-smoker.

They also stressed that making a decision to take up smoking knowing that you will give up before you are 35 is wishful thinking - giving up is very hard and most people fail on the first attempt.

The study was carried out at Duke University, North Carolina, USA, and was led by Dr. Taylor.

The researchers said that we often overlook how badly smoking affects our quality of life while we are still alive. Most of the focus is on life expectancy. But smoking, they say, undermines you general health and quality of life while you are alive.

In this study, the researchers studied the transcripts of interviews that had been carried out with middle-aged and elderly people. They talked about their health and whether they smoked or not and when they had given up. Over a period of many years these people were contacted again (on several occasions). The aim was to see how their health altered.

Most people, they found, had predictable health patterns according to how they described their health at the time. The researchers calculated how long these people could expect to live and live healthily.

They found that smokers lived less long than lifetime non smokers. They also found that smokers had longer periods of bad health while they were alive. Those who had given up 15 years (or more) before the start of the study lived as long as non smokers and enjoyed similar periods of good health while they were alive.

Even smokers who did not complain of health problems lived less time than non smokers.

It is crucial, they said, that you are not a smoker when health problems start. The longer the period of non-smoking before a health problem, the longer you are likely to live and the better your health will be while you are alive, they said.

The message here, they say, is to focus on the quality of life you want while you are alive - and not just to acknowledge that smoking shortens your life. Therefore, the argument that it is better to live a short happy life than a long boring one does not stand - the smoker will most likely have a short and unhappy life in comparison to the non-smoker.

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