Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide. If you smoke cigarettes you probably know that quitting has tremendous health benefits. But even even if you’re motivated to stop, strong cravings for nicotine, a highly addictive component of tobacco products, can make the urge hard to fight.
Nicotine activates the brain’s reward system and triggers the release of dopamine (and with it, intense feelings of pleasure). Once you’re hooked on that rush, it’s hard to give up. What’s more, withdrawal from nicotine can cause irritability, depression and anxiety, increased appetite and sleep disturbances.
Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2018 showed that over half of all smokers had tried to quit in the previous year. And though experts say it can take several attempts to quit smoking for good, there are ways to increase your odds of success. Whether you’re trying to quit for the first time or you’ve tried many times before, here’s advice from experts to help you kick the habit.
There are many benefits to quitting smoking, says Robert Goldberg, M.D., a pulmonologist with Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California. “Within the first 20 minutes of smoking your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure will drop. As time passes, the carbon monoxide level in your blood becomes normal and your circulation and lung function improves,” he says.
Other immediate benefits include an improved sense of smell, a better ability to taste food, a decrease in yellowing of the fingernails, increased exercise capacity and improvement in the smell of your breath, hair and clothes. Over time, you’ll cough less, but don’t be surprised if you cough more in the short term, says Norman Edelman, M.D., a pulmonologist and professor of Internal Medicine at Stony Brook University in New York.
“The smoker’s cough gets worse in the first few weeks after quitting because the airways of the lungs are repairing themselves by bringing up mucus from deep in the lungs,” says Dr. Edelman.
Long Term Benefits
In the long-term, quitting smoking reduces your risk of stroke, heart attack and certain types of cancers including lung, mouth, throat, voice box (larynx), bladder, esophagus and kidney, says Dr. Goldberg.
Half of all regular smokers will die of a smoking-related disease such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes), says Dr. Edelman. The good news? It’s never too late to stop.
“Even if you’re 70 years old and you smoked for 30-40 years, there is a health benefit to quitting,” says Dr. Edelman.
In fact, quitting smoking can add as much as 10 years to your life, according to the American Cancer Society. And if you stop before the age of 40, you significantly reduce your risk of dying from a smoking-related disease, says Dr. Goldberg.