Quitting smoking: benefits and tips

Most people know the health risks of smoking. But for many reasons, that doesn’t make it easier to quit. That’s because nicotine creates an addictive brief high - one many smokers keep going back for. Nicotine addiction affects people of all ages, including kids. In fact, thousands of kids pick up a tobacco product for the first time every single day in the U.S.Tobacco products pose a threat to anyone who uses them or is around them (think secondhand smoke). Luckily, there are lots of resources for quitting, along with a laundry list of benefits that come along with setting tobacco aside and kicking the nicotine habit.

What are the types of nicotine?

You might think of cigarettes right away when you hear the word “nicotine,” but there are other ways people can form the unhealthy habit. Let's take a look. 

What are the benefits of quitting smoking?

No matter how long you've smoked, there are a ton of benefits to quitting smoking. Quitting tobacco benefits may range from better heart and lung health to cutting cancer risks. It may also improve your reproductive health. Need more reasons? The list of pros is quite impressive. You’ll also save money and help protect friends and family from being exposed to harmful secondhand smoke.

Quitting smoking timeline5

The body is an amazing machine. After you take your final puff, your body starts to repair the damage within just minutes. After that, you’re on your way to better health. Let's look at it in detail. 

Time after quitting

Health benefits

Minutes

Heart rate drops

24 hours

Nicotine level in your blood drops to zero

Days

Carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal

1 – 12 months

Coughing and shortness of breath decreases

1 – 2 years

Risk of heart attack dramatically drops

3 – 6 years

Added risk of coronary heart disease decreases by 50%

5 – 10 years

Added risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and voice box decreases by 50%, and risk of stroke decreases

10 – 15 years

Added risk of lung cancer decreases by 50%, risk of coronary heart disease becomes close to that of someone who doesn’t smoke

20 years

Risk of cancers of the mouth, throat and voice box, and pancreatic cancer becomes close to that of someone who doesn’t smoke

What are some of the ways to quit smoking?

There’s no single best way to quit smoking. Some things may work for you that don’t work for a friend and vice versa. But with all the different types of smoking cessation resources, tools and programs out there, there’s likely something for everyone.

Before you look at ways to quit smoking, find your reason for quitting. You’ll need that reason to motivate you throughout your journey. Maybe it’s for your own personal health, or maybe you’re doing it for a loved one. Whatever the reason, find one to hold on to. Then, choose an aid to help you out. (You could always quit cold turkey, but a little extra support might be helpful.)6

It’s important to keep in mind there may be some side effects to certain smoking cessation products and prescriptions. Be sure to check with your doctor before you start one.

How long does it take to quit smoking?

Unfortunately, there’s no magical milestone that all smokers can count on to tell them they’ve successfully quit smoking. But, there are timelines to keep track of. Once you decide you're all done and you quit, your nicotine withdrawal could last anywhere from days to weeks. (If you were a heavy smoker, chances are your symptoms could last for a few weeks.) No matter your history with smoking, you can count on those first 3–5 days after you quit to be the hardest. That’s when the nicotine is completely clearing itself out of your body. (Cue the headaches, cravings and insomnia.)

Usually, if you can make it through the first 2 weeks of quitting, those physical symptoms of withdrawal will start to go away and it’ll get a little easier. The second wave of symptoms tend to be more mental (anxiety, depression, irritability). Those will also decrease after a few weeks. Look at that, you’re already a month in to better health.

Just remember to take it a day at a time and give yourself some grace. Nicotine addiction is a hard habit to break, so a pat on the back every once in a while is in order. Find yourself a good support system, make a plan before you quit and know what to expect so you can mentally prepare for the journey ahead.

Footnotes

  1. Smoking Facts | American Lung Association lung.org, 2020. 
  2. About Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes) cdc.gov, 2021.
  3. Cigars | Smoking & Tobacco Use | CDC cdc.gov, 2020.
  4. Hookahs | CDC cdc.gov, 2021.
  5. Benefits of Quitting | Smoking & Tobacco Use | CDC cdc.gov, 2020.
  6. Want to Quit Smoking? FDA-Approved Products Can Help fda.gov, 2017.
  7. Quit For Life Employer Book of Business Survey results, cumulative from 2006 to 2018.