Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health

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Can quitting really help a lifelong smoker?

Yes. It’s never too late to quit using tobacco. The sooner smokers quit, the more they can reduce their chances of getting cancer and other diseases. Within minutes of smoking the last cigarette, the body begins to recover:

20 minutes after quitting

Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.

    (Effect of smoking on arterial stiffness and pulse pressure amplification, Mahmud A, Feely J. 2003. Hypertension:41:183)

12 hours after quitting

The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.

    (US Surgeon General’s Report, 1988, p. 202)

2 weeks to 3 months after quitting

Your circulation improves and your lung function increases.

    (US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, pp.193, 194,196, 285, 323)

1 to 9 months after quitting

Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) start to regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.

    (US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, pp. 285-287, 304)

1 year after quitting

The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker’s.

    (US Surgeon General’s Report, 2010, p. 359)

5 years after quitting

Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker after 2-5 years.

    (A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease - The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease Fact Sheet, 2010; Tobacco Control: Reversal of Risk After Quitting Smoking. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Vol. 11. 2007, p 341)

10 years after quitting

The risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. The risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases.

    (A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease - The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease Fact Sheet, 2010; and US Surgeon General’s Report, 1990, pp. vi, 155, 165)

15 years after quitting

The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker’s.

    (Tobacco Control: Reversal of Risk After Quitting Smoking. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, Vol. 11. 2007. p 11)

These are just a few of the benefits of quitting smoking for good. Quitting smoking lowers the risk of diabetes, lets blood vessels work better, and helps the heart and lungs.

Life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than that of non-smokers. Quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related disease by about 90%. Quitting while you are younger will reduce your health risks more, but quitting at any age can give back years of life that would be lost by continuing to smoke.

Are there benefits of quitting that I’ll notice right away?

Kicking the tobacco habit offers some rewards that you’ll notice right away and some that will show up more slowly over time. These benefits can improve your day-to-day life a lot.

  • Food will taste better.
  • Your sense of smell returns to normal.
  • Your breath, hair, and clothes smell better.
  • Your teeth and fingernails stop yellowing.
  • Ordinary activities leave you less out of breath (for example, climbing stairs or light housework).
  • You can be in smoke-free buildings without having to go outside to smoke.

Quitting also helps stop the damaging effects of tobacco on how you look, including premature wrinkling of your skin, gum disease, and tooth loss.

Suppose I smoke for a while and then quit?

It’s much better to never start smoking – and avoid becoming addicted to nicotine – than it is to smoke with the plan to quit later. The best choice you can make is to refuse to use any and all forms of tobacco.

Smoking begins to cause damage right away, and it’s highly addictive. The same is true for other forms of tobacco. Studies have found that tobacco is as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol. Nicotine creates a tolerance in the body and promotes psychological dependence. It’s the most common form of drug addiction in the United States. This makes it much harder to quit, but with the right support it can be done. When an ex-smoker uses tobacco, even years after quitting, the body reacts the same way it did when the person was smoking, which is why many people go right back to their former habit. Don’t think you can smoke for a short while and quit when you want to – it’s rarely that easy.


Last Medical Review: 02/13/2014
Last Revised: 02/13/2014