What are the benefits of quitting smoking?
Quitting smoking not only benefits you, but also benefits those around you and the environment.
Smoking has many negative consequences. These can be to your physical health, your mental health and to your finances. One in every two smokers will die of a tobacco related disease.
How quitting smoking improves physical health
After quitting smoking you might notice some differences in your physical health. You'll see some benefits straight away and others as time goes on. The physical health benefits of quitting smoking start within 20 minutes of your last cigarette and continue for the rest of your life.
Read about how to quit smoking here.
General health improves
There are 4,000 chemicals in each cigarette. 60 of these are known carcinogens, meaning they are cancer causing. As well as this, tar and nicotine in cigarettes affect different parts of your body.
When you smoke there is less oxygen circulating in your body. This is because you inhale carbon monoxide (CO) when you smoke a cigarette. CO displaces oxygen in the blood. Put simply, it competes with oxygen to attach to red blood cells and wins. This deprives the heart, brain and other vital organs of the oxygen they need. After giving up smoking, your oxygen levels will increase and circulation improves. This will lead to several benefits including:
- Having more energy
- Your immune system functioning better
- Healthier and stronger muscles
- Better healing from injury
Nicotine also increases the release of the hormone cortisol. This is your body’s main stress hormone. Cortisol has an important function in your body: to fuel your ‘fight or flight’ response. However, when your cortisol is high, it alters or shuts down other functions in your body like:
- Your digestive system
- Your reproductive system
- Your immune system.
While cortisol is important at certain times, having excess cortisol when you don’t need it is not good for your body.
Less risk of disease
Smoking increases the risk of getting many diseases including:
- Cancers- such as mouth, lung, kidney and colon cancer and acute myeloid leukemia
- Cardiovascular disease and conditions- diseases or conditions of the heart or blood vessels including coronary artery disease or stroke
- Digestive diseases- including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach ulcers and Crohn’s disease
Breathing becomes easier
Within 24 hours of your last cigarette, carbon monoxide is eliminated from your body. Your lungs will start to clear out debris that has built up while you smoke.
Small hair like structures in your lungs called cilia start to grow back. These help push mucus out of your lungs and help fight infections.
During this time you might experience a cough. This isn’t something to worry about, it’s your lungs clearing themselves out as they return to normal.
As mentioned above, your circulation will improve. Within one to three months your lung function will increase by 10%.
Giving up smoking will improve your basic fitness. This is because:
- Your lung function will increase
- Your circulation will improve and more oxygen will get around your body
- Your muscles will get stronger and healthier because they will be getting more oxygen
- Your body will recover better from illness, exercise and in general
As a smoker, your body must work much harder when you work out. This is because smoking increases your resting heart rate. This is how fast your heart beats while you are not doing any physical activity. When you exercise your heart rate will increase and can reach a dangerously high level if you smoke.
Read more about why personal fitness and exercise is important.
Taste and smell improves
Smoking damages nerve endings in your nose and mouth, dulling your senses of taste and smell. Within just 2 days of quitting, the nerve endings begin to grow, and your sense of taste and smell begin to improve.
Reduce risk of unhealthy weight gain
Smoking increases your stress hormone cortisol. This puts your body into ‘fight or flight’ mode. In the short term, this can decrease your appetite.
However, high cortisol levels over a longer period of time can lead to weight gain because:
- Your body craves fuel to help respond to the stress
- Insulin is released in response to high cortisol which lowers blood sugar, causing you to crave sugary foods
- It causes your body to store more fat around the middle of the body, which is more unhealthy than fat stored elsewhere
Read more about how smoking affects your weight here.
Benefits to your mental health
Nicotine is a psychoactive substance. This means it alters brain function and can affect perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behaviour. Smoking or vaping can impact on mental health by:
- Triggering your ‘fight or flight’ response resulting in stress or anxiety
- Causing your brain to naturally release less dopamine- low dopamine is linked with depression
- Affecting sleep and behaviour because of nicotine addiction
In the short run after quitting smoking or vaping you might experience irritability as your brain craves nicotine. In the long run, though, you will experience less stress and anxiety because your brain won’t be releasing as much cortisol. Your brain will also start producing more dopamine again and your sleep will return to normal.
When you quit smoking you will see improvements in other areas of your life too.
An average box of cigarettes in Ireland costs €13.50. If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day and quit you could save:
- €94.50 per week
- €410.63 per month
- €4927.50 per year
Figure out how much you could save if you quit smoking on the Irish Cancer Society’s Savings Calculator.
Hair, skin, nails and teeth
Toxins in cigarettes can damage hair follicles and hormones. Smoking can cause premature graying or hair loss.
Smoking chronically deprives the skin of oxygen and nutrients. Chemicals in cigarettes also break down collagen and elastin. These are important fibres that give skin its strength and elasticity. This causes wrinkles and skin can appear duller and paler.
Holding a cigarette stains your fingers and nails over time.
Your teeth can become yellow from smoke. People who smoke are more likely to develop gum disease, persistent bad breath and other oral hygiene problems. Smokers are twice as likely to lose teeth as nonsmokers.
After quitting smoking:
- Circulation improves
- Nutrients increase
- Your body can begin to repair damage done by the toxins in smoke
Benefits for others
Smoking isn't just bad for you. Your habit also has negative consequences on those around you and the environment.
Passive smoking is when people inhale other people’s second hand smoke. People who inhale second hand smoke are at risk of many of the negative effects of smoking, including:
- Some types of cancer
- Lung diseases
When you smoke you inhale about 15% of the smoke from a cigarette. The other 85% is absorbed into the atmosphere or inhaled by others.
Encourage others to start
Smoking isn’t perceived as fashionable anymore. However, people might still be influenced if they see someone they know or look up to smoking. When we see someone doing something, it often makes us more interested in doing it too. Our behaviour also influences those around us. You might not smoke a lot or not believe you are addicted, but you could still encourage someone to start who does get addicted.
Read more about peer pressure.
Effects on the environment
Smoking has an impact on the environment as a whole. Tobacco crops need fertilisers and chemicals to grow. These have a negative impact on animals, people and the environment in general.
Tobacco must be dried and processed. This results in carbon emissions. There are approximately six trillion cigarettes produced globally each year. Chemicals are produced to go into these and these chemicals are released into the air and into the ground when they are disposed of.
Cigarette butts are particularly bad. Just under 55% of waste pollution in Ireland is due to cigarette butts. They soak up a lot of dangerous substances from the cigarettes. When they are thrown away they can leak these substances into the water supply affecting plants, animals and humans.
Read more about smoking and the environment here.
Withdrawal symptoms from smoking
Quitting smoking or vaping offers a huge amount of benefits both long and short term. Quitting is extremely worthwhile, but nicotine withdrawal can make quitting difficult at first. People usually experience withdrawal symptoms which can include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Feeling miserable
Read more about how to deal with withdrawal symptoms here.