The Benefits of Stopping Smoking

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Stopping smoking can make a big difference to your health and lifestyle. It is never too late to stop smoking to greatly benefit your health. For example, if you stop smoking in middle age, before having cancer or some other serious disease, you avoid most of the increased risk of death due to smoking. Help is available if you find it difficult to stop smoking.

The benefits begin straightaway.

You reduce your risk of getting serious disease no matter what age you give up. However, the sooner you stop, the greater the reduction in your risk. In fact, researchers have found that if you stop smoking before the age of 50 your risk of dying is virtually reduced to that of a non-smoker. Even if you give up after the age of 60, your risk of dying at any given age is reduced by about 39% compared to a person who carries on smoking.

  • If you stop smoking you:
    • Reduce the risk of getting serious smoking-related diseases such as heart disease, cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and peripheral vascular disease.
    • Reduce the risk of getting various other conditions which, although not life-threatening, can cause unpleasant problems. For example:
      • Erection problems (impotence).
      • Fertility problems.
      • Optic neuropathy - this is a condition affecting the nerve supplying the eye.
      • Cataracts.
      • A breakdown of the tissue at the back of the eye (macular degeneration).
      • A skin condition called psoriasis.
      • Gum disease.
      • Tooth loss.
      • 'Thinning' of the bones (osteoporosis).
      • Raynaud's phenomenon - in this condition, fingers turn white or blue when exposed to cold.
    • Reduce the risk of pregnancy complications if you are pregnant.
  • If you have smoked since being a teenager or young adult:
    • If you stop smoking before the age of about 35, your life expectancy is only slightly less than it is for people who have never smoked.
    • If you stop smoking before the age of 50, you decrease the risk of dying from smoking-related diseases by 50%.
  • But it is never too late to stop smoking to gain health benefits. Even if you already have COPD or heart disease, your outlook (prognosis) is much improved if you stop smoking.

Timeline of health benefits after stopping smoking

AfterHealth Benefit
72 hoursBreathing becomes easier. Bronchial tubes begin to relax and energy levels increase.
1 monthSkin appearance improves, owing to improved skin perfusion.
3-9 monthsCough, wheezing, and breathing problems improve and lung function increases by up to 10%.
1 yearRisk of a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker.
10 yearsRisk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.
15 yearsRisk of heart attack falls to the same level that it would be for someone who has never smoked.

These include:

  • Your breath won't smell any more of stale tobacco.
  • The smell of stale tobacco will also go from your clothes, hair and home.
  • Foods and drinks taste and smell much better.
  • Finances improve. You will save well over £2,000 per year if you smoked 20 a day.
  • Better rates of insurance policies.
  • You are likely to feel good about yourself.
  • Doctors and patients can use Decision Aids together to help choose the best course of action to take.
  • Compare the options  

About 2 in 3 smokers want to stop smoking. Some people can give up easily. Willpower and determination are the most important aspects when giving up smoking. However, nicotine is a drug of addiction and many people find giving up a struggle. Help is available.

  • GPs, practice nurses or pharmacists can provide information, encouragement, and tips on stopping smoking. Also, throughout the country there are specialist NHS 'Stop Smoking Clinics' which have a good success in helping people to stop smoking. Your doctor may refer you to one if you are keen to stop smoking.
  • Various medicines can increase your chance of quitting. These include nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) which comes as gums, sprays, patches, tablets, lozenges, and inhalers. You can buy NRT without a prescription. Also, medicines called bupropion (Zyban®) and varenicline (Champix®) can help. These are available on prescription. See separate leaflets called Nicotine Replacement Therapy, Bupropion (Zyban®) and Varenicline (Champix®).
  • There are also electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). They are designed to look and feel like normal cigarettes. They have a heating element inside that vapourises a solution - this looks like smoke. It may also contain nicotine. They are substituted for normal cigarettes or cigars. There is some uncertainty whether this is more effective than the other ways of stopping smoking. A research paper from The Lancet (see under 'References' at the end of this leaflet) showed that the e-cigarettes were as effective as nicotine patches. Further studies are needed to ensure they are safe to use over a length of time.

See also separate leaflet called Tips to Help You Stop Smoking.

Original Author:
Dr Tim Kenny
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr John Cox
Document ID:
4763 (v42)
Last Checked:
24/04/2015
Next Review:
23/04/2018
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