The US Surgeon General, the leading spokesperson on matters of public health, has said, “Smoking cessation represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives.”
But kicking the habit is not easy. Nicotine, a drug found naturally in tobacco, is as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Over time, a person becomes physically and emotionally dependent on nicotine.
Almost immediately upon inhalation, the body responds to the nicotine by relaxing and calming down. Because of the addictive properties, not smoking causes withdrawal symptoms, including craving more cigarettes, increasing irritability, impatience, anxiety, and other unpleasant symptoms. In addition, over time, more and more nicotine is desired to produce the favorable effects and to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal.
The signs of addiction to cigarettes include:
- Smoking more than seven cigarettes per day
- Inhaling deeply and frequently
- Smoking within 30 minutes of awakening in the morning
- Finding it difficult to eliminate the first cigarette in the morning
- Smoking frequently during the morning
- Needing to smoke even if sick and in bed
Smoking harms the smoker and anyone who breathes the smoker's cigarette smoke, called secondhand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Among infants up to 18 months of age, secondhand smoke is associated with as many as 300,000 cases of bronchitis and pneumonia each year as well as increasing a child’s likelihood of having middle ear problems, coughing and wheezing, asthma, and dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Exposure to passive smoke can also cause cancer, stroke and heart disease. Research has shown that non-smokers who reside with a smoker have a 24% increase in risk for developing lung cancer when compared with other non-smokers. An estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths occur each year in the U.S. that are attributable to passive smoking.
Quitting smoking makes a difference right away in the way you feel. You can taste and smell food better. Your breath smells better. Your cough goes away. These benefits happen for men and women of all ages, even those who are older.
Even more importantly, in the long run, quitting smoking cuts the risk of lung cancer, many other cancers, heart disease, stroke, and other lung or respiratory diseases (e.g., bronchitis, pneumonia, and emphysema). Moreover, ex-smokers have better health than current smokers. For example, ex-smokers have fewer days of illness, fewer health complaints, and less bronchitis and pneumonia than current smokers.
When smokers quit:
- 20 minutes after quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure drops.
- 12 hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
- 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
- 1 to 9 months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.
- 1 year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.
- 5 years after quitting: Your stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker 5 to 15 years after quitting.
- 10 years after quitting: The lung cancer rate is about half that of a continuing smoker’s. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decrease as well.
- 15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a non-smoker’s.
Finally, quitting smoking saves money. A pack-a-day smoker who pays $4 per pack can expect to save more than $1,408 per year! What's more, it looks like the price of cigarettes will continue to rise in coming years (it’s $9 in NYC!), as will the financial rewards of quitting.
American Cancer Society
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention