Why should you stop smoking?

We all know that smoking is bad for your health, but does quitting really make life better?

photo of stubbed out cigarette

Improved lifestyle

When a person stops smoking, they have more cash, around £4000 extra every year for a person smoking 20 a day. They are more appealing to the opposite sex. Men are less likely to have problems with erections. Women tend to be more fertile and have healthier babies. Skin will age more slowly, complexion improves with fewer wrinkles. Teeth will be whiter. The smell of smoke no longer hangs over the home and clothing. The senses of smell and taste will improve so that you will enjoy your food more. You may even notice that flowers will smell sweeter!

Improved mental health

When a person stops smoking, they are often concerned that they will be more stressed and unhappy. In fact, studies have shown that more people have good mental health and feel happier after stopping. The enjoyment which people experience from smoking is actually due to relief of withdrawal symptoms, rather than a direct pleasurable effect of nicotine.

Be more relaxed

Studies show that smokers are more stressed. They spend much of their time craving cigarettes and the relief they get from smoking is only short lived. Thinking about when and where to have the next cigarette increases stress. It is stressful having to leave work/meetings/friends to take a smoking break, or to go outside in the rain to smoke when at a restaurant or pub. Travel on trains, buses, and planes can be difficult and more stressful, as public spaces are smoke free zones.

Breathe easier

People breathe more easily and cough less when they stop smoking. It is unusual for non-smokers to get short of breath doing simple tasks, but life-long smokers are often increasingly breathless. Stopping smoking at any age will lead to an improvement in general fitness and breathing. Within 9 months of stopping smoking the lungs will be working much better. Stopping smoking can make the difference between a healthy active old age and one dogged by breathing problems.

Live longer

It's generally known that smokers die younger. Diseases linked to smoking lead to early death for around 2/3rds of long term smokers.

A man of 30 who gives up smoking will live on average 10 years longer than if he continued to smoke. Stopping at 40 adds 9 years, at 50 adds 6 years and at 60 will add 3 years to life expectancy. It does not matter at what age smoking is stopped it will always improve the chances of a longer life.

Reduce your risk of cancer

It's important to remember that while nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, it is the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke that cause almost all of the harm.

Tobacco smoke causes about 90% of all lung cancers and 1/5th of all UK cancer diagnoses each year. More than 16 different cancer types are linked to smoking, including cancer in the nose and sinuses, mouth, lips, tongue, throat, voice box (larynx), gullet (oesophagus), lung, bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas, leukaemia, bowel, ovary, cervix. Over a quarter of UK cancer deaths are linked to smoking. Newer research also links smoking with Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer, and cancer in the womb, vagina, and vulva.

There is some evidence that smoking may also impact the effectiveness of some cancer treatments.

Reduce other health risks

Smoking has also been shown to be among the main causes of heart disease, strokes, and circulation problems including aortic aneurysms. One year after stopping smoking the risk of having a heart attack is reduced by a half.

Several studies link smoking to the development of most types of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

Apart from lung cancer, the lungs can also be damaged causing bronchitis, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and pneumonia.

Smoking can make other chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, many skin conditions and multiple sclerosis worse. Other smoking related health risks (heart disease, strokes, aneurysms, dementia etc.) are even higher in people who smoke and suffer from other chronic diseases including alcoholism.

For your children and family

Cigarette smoke is bad for children's health. Living in a smoky environment is thought to cause 165,000 cases of disease in children each year in the UK, mostly ear and chest problems. Family smoking is linked to nearly 10,000 children's hospital admissions each year. Children are three times more likely to smoke themselves and to smoke from a younger age if their parents smoke.

Non-smokers who regularly inhale other people's smoke, have an increased risk of developing lung cancer and heart disease, so stopping smoking will benefit your loved ones as well.

Do it for yourself

Stopping smoking produces a sense of achievement and well-being. People who give up often say food tastes better and that they have more energy.

So, if you want to be richer, healthier, live longer, be more relaxed, and have a better quality of life, you should stop smoking as soon as you can.

If you smoke, giving up is probably the greatest single step you can take to improve your health. Do it now!

Health benefits after stopping smoking

Data from NICE, 2021, Benefits of stopping smoking
Time since last smokedHealth benefits
20 minutesPulse returns to normal.
8 hoursNicotine level is reduced by 90%, carbon monoxide levels in the blood reduce by 75%, and oxygen levels return to normal, circulation improves.
24 hoursCarbon monoxide and nicotine are eliminated from the body. Lungs start to clear out smoking debris.
48 hoursAll traces of nicotine are removed from the body. Sense of taste and smell improves.
72 hoursBreathing is easier. Bronchial tubes begin to relax and energy levels increase.
2–12 weeksCirculation improves.
1 monthPhysical appearance improves owing to improved skin perfusion. Skin loses its grey pallor and becomes less wrinkled.
3–9 monthsCoughing and wheezing declines.
1 yearExcess risk of heart attack reduces by half.
10 yearsRisk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a continuing smoker.
15 yearsRisk of heart attack falls to the same level as someone who has never smoked.
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Dr Amanda Wood

Authored 13 June 2022 by Dr A. Wood
MB ChB Manchester University 1984. NHS GP in Bristol.

Reviewed by Dr C. Pugh
Last reviewed 13 June 2022
Last updated 7 July 2022