If you smoke for most of your life and still live to a ripe, old age, you might have more than luck on your side. Though smokers can generally expect to live 10 years less than non-smokers, this is by no means a hard and fast rule. Jeanne Calment, for example, smoked every day from the age of 21, yet was the oldest person in the world when she died at age 122 in 1997, reports the Washington Post. To understand such cases, scientists at UCLA carried out a study on long-lived smokers, comparing 90 smokers who lived past 80 with 730 who died before 70. They identified genetic markers that allows some to endure damage from stressors such as cigarette smoke better than the rest of us. In fact, the markers "seem to promote longevity," study author Morgan Levine says in a release.
"Many of these markers are in pathways that were discovered to be important for aging and lifespan in animal models," says Levine, noting the genes "may facilitate lifespan extension by increasing cellular maintenance and repair." When researchers compared those with the gene variants to 6,447 non-smokers, they found the former group was 22% more likely to survive into their 90s, and three times more likely to reach 100, reports UPI. They also had a lesser risk of cancer. Genetic tests might someday allow people to easily learn whether they are among this "biologically distinct" group. Just don't bet on good news: Levine notes it's "extremely small," and "even among those who are genetically predisposed to longevity, smoking cessation is likely still one of the best things they can do for their health." (Want to live longer? You might try chili peppers.)