Stopping smoking: the benefits, the challenges and how to do it
Stopping smoking is an important but difficult journey to go on. If you are looking to improve your health and wellbeing by quitting smoking, this guide can help. Here we discuss the benefits of quitting, what happens when you do and the best ways to do it.
The effects of the chemicals in cigarettes that make your heart beat faster will wear off. This lowers your heart rate and blood pressure.
Your heartbeat will be returning to normal and the circulation around your body will begin improving.
If you are not using a smoking cessation tool (something used to help you quit smoking tobacco such as nicotine patches or e-cigarettes), you may start to feel some withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and irritability.
Your risk of a heart attack has already reduced and will continue to get lower as time goes on. Your oxygen levels will have risen, meaning physical activities and exercises will be easier to do. Breathing should feel easier and less congested.
You may start noticing that your sense of taste and smell has improved. This is because smoking damages the nerve endings responsible for these senses. Once you quit smoking, your body begins to repair itself, including these damaged nerve endings.
If you are not using a smoking cessation tool, your body will have no nicotine in its system. This depletion can cause nicotine withdrawal symptoms including moodiness, irritability, cravings and headaches.
Your lung capacity will start to improve. You will probably notice less coughing and shortness of breath. This makes any physical activity much easier on your lungs and heart.
You will also start to see an end to withdrawal symptoms such as irritation and insomnia.
Your lungs will be significantly improving. Your cilia—the tiny hairs that protect your airways—will be growing back. You will be less at risk of a chest infection because these hairs are better able to tackle mucus.
Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to non-smokers1.
In 2016, smoking was directly responsible for 95,800 deaths in the UK 2.
72% of lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by cancer 3.
The average smoker spends £2,050 per year on smoking 4.
Your risk of cardiovascular disease will have dropped by 50%, and will keep dropping. Your risks of strokes and heart attacks are also reduced by 50% or more, compared to a smoker.
5 years +
Your risk of suffering a stroke has lessened to the equivalent of a non-smoker.
10 years +
Your chances of developing a lung disease such as cancer have now dropped to 50%, compared to someone who smokes. In fact, you will now be far less at risk of all ‘smoking cancers’, including throat, mouth, oesophageal and pancreatic.
How to stop smoking
There are many approaches to quitting smoking. It can be a tough journey, so it is worth spending the time working out which approach will be best for you. Consider your level of willpower, your smoking route and the amount you smoke.
Make a list of reasons to quit—this can help you in difficult times.
Avoid your triggers—enjoy a smoke after a drink or during break times? Change your habits to avoid the temptation
Exercise—make use of your healthier heart and lungs
Know that the first few days are the hardest but it will get easier!
HSE quit smoking services
HSE offers an array of support services to help you quit smoking. You can find information, advice and support services on by visiting the website here.
a personalised quit plan
expert advice from healthcare professionals
local cessation support services
Online support blogs
These services are designed to help you break the habit of smoking, and work best when combined with other methods of quitting, such as nicotine replacement therapy.
E-cigarettes (also called vapes) have quickly become one of the most popular smoking cessations on the market.
They are battery-powered devices that convert liquid nicotine into a vapour that you then inhale. This process avoids ‘burning’ tobacco and so does not contain harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide and tar.
The health risks of e-cigarettes
There is a distinct lack of long-term studies on the effects of e-cigarettes and what they can do to the body. Almost all e-cigarette liquids contain aldehydes—these are the chemical compounds that give the liquids their smells.
They are considered safe when used in food, but not for smoking or vaping. Studies have found that heating or vaporising aldehydes can convert them into chemicals that can cause cancer, as well as irritate and inflame the lungs.
So while e-cigarettes are not as damaging as normal cigarettes, don’t be confused—they can still harm your health.
Quitting cold turkey is one of the most common but difficult ways to quit smoking. This is where you stop all your smoking at once, with no formal therapy, medications or replacement methods. You will face any withdrawal symptoms and cravings alone, simply relying on your own willpower to succeed.
Cost-effective—you won’t spend any money on vaporisers or cessations
Fastest way to remove nicotine from your system—stopping immediately means the nicotine will be out of your system within three days. However, you will still have the psychological addiction to contend with.
Intense withdrawal symptoms—irritability, insomnia, depression, anxiety, headaches and weight gain.
Doesn’t help psychological addiction—quitting cold turkey might be the quickest way to get nicotine out of your system, but it doesn’t account for the psychological dependence. Smoke to relieve stress or as a social activity, your cravings will start again.
It takes an incredible amount of willpower to quit smoking cold turkey. You will suffer through very intense withdrawal symptoms, which can easily cause you to relapse and start smoking again. You have the lowest chance of success when quitting cold turkey, so be prepared for an uphill battle.
What is the best way to stop smoking?
There is no ‘best way’ to stop smoking. Dealing with quitting cigarettes is a personal experience—your character, the amount you smoke and for how long will influence your success.
We would suggest experimenting with each way, to see which one works best for you. You can try combining methods to see if they fit your lifestyle.