SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) _ You’re never too old to quit. That’s something that doctors tell smokers all the time and now the federal government is putting its money where its mouth is.

Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 65 who are trying to kick the habit will now get counseling, if they want it, said Medicare’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Barry Straube.

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“People who are over 65 have generally been long-term smokers,” he said.

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Straube estimates there are about 4.5 million of them, making up about 10 percent of the senior population. And the rate of younger smokers is double that.

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However, Straube said the figures don’t mean older smokers should be ignored.

“This is still a very significant problem that leads to lung cancer, leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema and contributes to mortality and morbidity from cardiovascular disease,” he said.

But Straube said senior smokers who are trying to quit have a distinct advantage.

“It’s been found that people over the age of 65 actually do better with smoking cessation counseling than folks in the younger category,” he said.

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Seniors are eligible for eight smoking cessation counseling sessions per year. In January, the co-pay will be eliminated and the sessions will be free.