What Happens When You Stop Smoking?
What happens when you stop smoking?
Smoking is one of the unhealthiest things anybody can do. It brings a great many health complications and risks and is a leading cause of preventable deaths around the world. Because of this, quitting smoking can be a very positive lifestyle change.
Of course, it’s not so easy. Addiction is inherently hard to break free from. It can also seem a little overwhelming at first, and perhaps a little arbitrary. Why quit now for some possible benefits, when quitting is so hard and the gains to be made will be a long time coming?
However, the benefits come faster than you might think. It isn’t simply a case of allowing you a longer life. As we will see, the timeline of health benefits begins the moment you finish your last cigarette, then only gets better with time.
The effects of smoking
First things first: why should you stop smoking? Well, as we are all undoubtedly aware, it’s bad for you. But what do we mean by ‘bad’?
Most prominently, tobacco will end up killing half of its users prematurely, one way or another. In fact, it kills around 8 million people annually. Most of those – over 7 million – are deaths caused by direct smoking. Another 1.2 million or so are linked to passive smoking, or being exposed to second hand smoke.
Over 80% of the world’s tobacco users (around 1.3 billion as a best-guess estimate) are from low- and middle-income countries, where prevention measures such as taxation, healthcare, and awareness are impractical.
Smokers are far more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from coronary heart disease and many types of cancer, including lung, pancreatic and oesophageal cancer.
There is no safe level of tobacco exposure. All forms are harmful, no matter what filters or methods are put into place. Though hookah and water- pipes are not as bad as unfiltered superkings, they are still very damaging. This being said, most people smoke filtered cigarettes, though of course there are plenty of alternatives – roll ups, joints, bidis, cigars, cigarillos, pipes, and so on.
Smokeless tobacco is as damaging to health as smoking itself. It is highly addictive and contains many cancer-causing toxins and chemicals. Using it increases your risk of many types of cancer, particularly of the head, neck, throat, oesophagus, mouth, tongue, lips and gums. It is also associated with many dental concerns and diseases.
In the rich world, smoking is very expensive, as tobacco is one of the most highly taxed goods available. This is deliberate, of course. Governments are trying to make people stop smoking. This is perhaps the first thing you’ll notice when you quit smoking – your wallet will probably get a fair amount fuller overnight!
It isn’t only an individual problem. There are broader societal concerns with tobacco use, too. As above, over a million people die each year due to second hand smoke. Second hand smoke can lead to many of the same illnesses and problems as smoking itself. Then there are the economic costs as healthcare providers have to treat otherwise preventable diseases. There are also global ethical issues in production – child labour is fundamental to the economics of tobacco growth, for instance.
A timeline of benefits when you stop smoking
Smoking will always cause health complications and impaired wellbeing, with premature death being only a small part of it. However, when stop smoking, your body begins to naturally heal itself automatically, pretty much instantaneously. It’s possible to regain your former health when you quit, especially if you are relatively young and have been a relatively light smoker.
Some of the more immediate effects include increased oxygen levels in the blood, lower blood pressure, clearer lungs, and an overall healthier cardiovascular system. There are some effects that come more slowly – largely, decreasing your risk of suffering from certain chronic conditions is a bit of a slow process.
The first smoke free day
You will be able to feel the benefits as you stop smoking from day one. In fact, you’ll be able to feel them from the first hour.
After an hour
Your heartrate will drop after just twenty minutes of not smoking, normalising within the first hour. Your blood pressure will also begin to fall to a healthier level and your circulation should begin to improve.
After 12 hours
Half a day after you stop smoking, your body will cleanse itself of the excess carbon monoxide that smoking delivers. Carbon monoxide levels should return to normal, which is incredibly important for your health and wellbeing.
Carbon monoxide is one of the main toxins that cigarettes give out. A gas, it can be harmful or even fatal in high doses. It’s dangerous in even more moderate doses, as it inhibits oxygen uptake by preventing it from entering into the bloodstream. This can lead to suffocation in extreme cases.
After 24 hours
Your risk of suffering a heart attack will greatly decrease after just a single smoke free day.
Smoking lowers good cholesterol, which in turn raises your risk of developing coronary heart disease. It also raises your blood pressure and increases blood clots, raising your risk of stroke, and increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Your blood pressure will have dropped significantly within a day of quitting smoking. In addition, your oxygen levels will rise, making it easier to perform heart friendly cardiovascular exercise
The first three months without smoking
After 2-3 days
You should begin to notice your senses of smell and taste improving as you stop smoking. Most of this will occur within the first two to three days of quitting smoking. Smoke damages the nerve endings responsible for both, but given a chance to recover and heal both should come back near enough fully.
You may find yourself growing irritable in this time, though. The nicotine levels in your body will be depleted by the third day. This is healthy. However, it will cause withdrawal and associated symptoms – short temper, headaches, moodiness, cravings, and interrupted sleep patterns.
After 1-3 months
Your lung function should greatly improve by the end of the first month. They will heal and their capacity should improve, leading to less shortness of breath and potentially improved athletic performance and endurance. Coughing should also begin to disappear.
This will continue over the course of the first three months. Circulation will continue to improve, so that richly oxygenated blood will be able to get to every part of your body in healthy quantities.
The first year as you stop smoking
After 9 months
Your lungs will have healed themselves significantly within the first nine months or so of quitting.
The lungs contain cilia – delicate, hair thin structures that help to push mucus out of the lungs and fight infections. Smoking damages them and impairs their ability to function properly. Nine months after you stop smoking, you should therefore notice fewer lung infections, if any, as the cilia heal and begin to perform as they should.
After a year
The anniversary of your quitting will be a big deal. At this point, you will have halved your risk of developing coronary heart disease. This will continue to fall after the first year, but the biggest changes will come in this crucial 12-month period.
Stop smoking for the longer term
After 5 years
After going five years without smoking, your body will have healed itself a great deal. In particular, it will have healed itself enough that your blood vessels and arteries will begin to widen. They narrow when you smoke due to several of the toxins found in nicotine, but this will reverse with simple (though not easy) patience.
This reversal – the widening of your blood vessels and arteries – will decrease the chances of your blood clotting. This in turn will reduce your risk of stroke.
After 10 years
Your risk of stroke will continue to fall over the first decade as you stop smoking. Your chance of developing lung cancer will be halved, as will your likelihood of dying from it should you develop it. Similarly, your chances of developing mouth, throat, or pancreatic cancer will drop considerably in this time.
Beyond the first decade
Your risk of developing coronary heart disease will be about the same as a non-smoker’s from around fifteen years after quitting. So too will your risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
After twenty years, it will almost be like you never smoked. Your risk of dying from smoking-related causes like lung disease and cancer will have dropped to the same level as somebody who has never smoked at all.
Accessing support to help you on your journey to a smoke free life
Recoverlution support anyone who is trying to overcome an addiction and access a healthier way of life. Within our purpose built platform, dedicated to addiction recovery, you can create a circle or a meeting of support for yourself and others.
You will also find subscribing to our Wellness hub beneficial to your recovery journey. Here you can benefit from proven holistic practices including Breath work, yoga and meditation, all of which will help you to remain grounded and centred in your recovery.