The concept of lung age – the age of the average healthy person with similar lung function to an individual – was developed to help patients understand complex lung data. It also helps to show how smoking prematurely ages the lungs.
Until now, there has been no evidence that this increases quit rates among smokers. As a result, a team of researchers set out to test the theory that telling smokers their lung age would lead to successful smoking cessation, particularly in those with the most damaged lungs.
The study involved 561 current smokers who attended five different GP practices in England. All were aged over 35.
All participants had a lung function test using a spirometer. This records the volume and rate at which a person exhales air from the lungs. They were then randomly split into two groups.
One group was given detailed information about their spirometry results and lung age. They were also shown a diagram of how smoking ages the lungs and were told that quitting would slow down the rate of deterioration.
Those in the control group were given a figure relating to their spirometry results, but were given no further explanation about this.
Both groups were told that their lung function would be tested again after 12 months to see if there had been any change. All were also strongly encouraged to quit and were offered referral to local smoking cessation services.
After 12 months, 6.4% of those in the control group had quit smoking. However 13.6% of those in the other group had quit, meaning that they were twice as likely to have stopped smoking than those in the control group.
The researchers found that those with worse lung age results were no more likely to have quit than those with normal lung age in either of the groups. This unexpected finding suggests that knowing the lung age helps a smoker to quit whatever the result.
More research is needed to investigate the psychological reasons behind this, the researchers said.
They concluded that ‘smoking cessation rates can be improved by spirometry and lung age estimation’.
Details of these findings are published in the British Medical Journal.