Quitting smoking

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.1 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 long list of benefits that come along with setting tobacco aside and kicking the nicotine habit.2

Quit for Life program

Quit For Life has helped 5.9 million members successfully quit smoking, e-cigarettes, vaping, nicotine and tobacco.3  UnitedHealthcare members get Quit For Life at no added cost.

What are the risks of using tobacco?

Did you know tobacco use is the single largest cause of preventable death and disease in the United States?

Cigarette smoking can increase the risk for many health problems including cancer, type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease — and it causes an estimated 443,000 deaths each year.4  No tobacco product is safe. This includes cigarettes, cigars, hookah, e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, like chewing tobacco. The nicotine in tobacco products is addictive.  

When used over a long period, tobacco-related chemicals, like tar and nicotine, may increase your risk of many health problems. There's a long list of serious health risks associated with smoking, and knowing these may help motivate you to quit.

Smoking may put you at a greater risk of:

  • Developing certain cancers, including throat, mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney and lung cancers

  • Developing lung problems such as chronic obstructive lung disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma 

  • Developing coronary artery disease which can lead to angina and heart attacks

  • Having gum disease and tooth loss

  • Having high blood pressure

  • Developing type 2 diabetes 

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.  

The benefits of quitting tobacco begin almost immediately8

The body is an amazing machine. After you stop using these products, 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. 

The benefits of quitting tobacco begin almost immediately

Time after quitting Health benefits
20 minutes Heart rate and blood pressure drop
12 hours The carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to normal
2 weeks to 3 months Circulation improves and lung function increases
1 to 9 months Coughing, sinus congestion and shortness of breath decrease. Lung’s cilia return, increasing the body’s ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and fight infection
1 year The risk of developing heart disease is half that of a smoker’s. The risk for heart attack drops dramatically
5 to 15 years The risk of stroke is the same as a non-smoker’s. The risk of mouth, throat and esophageal cancer is half that of a smoker’s
10 years The risk of dying from lung cancer is half that of a smoker’s. The risk of developing pancreatic and larynx cancer decreases
15 years The risk of developing coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker's

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.)9

Nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) are products that can help you gradually wean yourself from smoking and should typically only be used for a short period of time. Five types of NRT include skin patches, chewing gum, lozenges, inhaler and nasal spray. They contain what are considered to be safe levels of nicotine to replace the nicotine in tobacco and help you kick your nicotine addiction.


Your doctor could prescribe medicines designed to help you quit smoking. They have no nicotine but work in the brain to reduce the desire to use tobacco. Check with your doctor to learn more about  approved medications and make sure you understand the possible side effects.


This toll-free number directs callers to their state’s tobacco Quitline, anywhere in the U.S. From there, callers can get help setting up a plan to quit smoking that may work best for them.

Quit for Life

UnitedHealthcare members can access the Quit for Life program at no extra cost. The program will provide you with personalized coaching and support. You also get access to free Nicotine Replacement Therapy to help you manage your cravings and increase your changes of quitting tobacco for good.

Get ready to quit

  • Talk to your doctor to address to discuss which smoking cessation aid you want to use.  

  • Pick a quit date and a method. Successful quitting is a matter of planning and commitment.

  • Recognize and remove triggers. Get rid of cigarettes and ashtrays in your home, car and at work.

  • Find support. Tell family members and friends of your plan to quit smoking or access one of the many organizations that can help you quit smoking. (Visit smokefree.gov for support and resources)

  • Recognize your progress. No matter how many days it’s been since you quit, each day is a victory. Make sure to reward yourself. 

  • Find alternative to smoking. Try toothpicks, cinnamon sticks, sugarless gum, sugar-free lollipops or celery as an alternative. Going for a walk as exercise can improve your mood and stress levels.

Remember if you slip up, don’t give up. Use past attempts as a learning experience and review what worked well and what didn’t. Recommit yourself, re-evaluate your quit plan/ method and reconnect with your support systems.

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.

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. 

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.