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.

In this guide

Benefits of stopping smoking

There are lots of reasons to quit smoking:

  • Improved sense of smell and taste
  • Better general fitness
  • Healthier lungs and heart
  • Healthier-looking skin and teeth
  • Better sex life
  • Improved fertility
  • Save money
  • Smell better

Quit smoking timeline

20 minutes

The effects of the chemicals in cigarettes that make your heart beat faster will wear off. This lowers your heart rate and blood pressure.

8 hours

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.

1 day

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.

2 days

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.

3 days

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.

1 month

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.

3–9 months

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.

Smoking facts

  1. Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to non-smokers1.
  2. In 2016, smoking was directly responsible for 95,800 deaths in the UK 2.
  3. 72% of lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by smoking 3.
  4. The average smoker spends £2,050 per year on smoking 4.

1 year

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.

The most popular ways to quit smoking are:

Nicotine replacement products

NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) products allow you to take nicotine into your body without having to deal with the many chemicals that cigarettes contain, such as carbon monoxide etc.

Designed to be a buffer after quitting smoking, they are an excellent way to stave off the withdrawal symptoms as you slowly lower your nicotine dosages.

Pros and cons of nicotine replacement products



  • One of the easiest ways to reduce your nicotine intake
  • Dulls down the intense withdrawal symptoms
  • Removes any cravings that may cause you to relapse
  • Many types of NRT products available
  • Can be bought without prescription and many are available on medical card
  • Can be used during pregnancy or breastfeeding
  • You will still have nicotine in your system
  • Can cause some minor side effects (headaches, dizziness etc).
  • Should be used with caution if you suffer from certain conditions like liver or kidney diseases

Best nicotine replacement aids

Below are some of the best nicotine replacement products to help you quit smoking, all of which are available at McCabes:

Nicorette Gum

Quick facts:

  • Sugar-free
  • Helps whiten teeth
  • Available in packs of 30 up to 210 pieces
  • Allows you to decide how much nicotine you need
  • Available in a variety of flavours and strengths

How to use:

  1. Chew the gum slowly until the taste becomes strong
  2. Rest the gum between your gums and cheek
  3. Start chewing the gum again once the taste has faded
  4. Repeat until your nicotine cravings have gone

Available flavours

Nicorette QuickMist spray

Quick facts:

  • Fast-acting—starts to work in 60 seconds
  • Nicotine absorbs quickly through the mouth lining
  • Contains 150 sprays
  • Easy to carry in pocket/handbag
  • Available in fresh mint or berry flavour

How to use:

  1. Point the spray nozzle towards your open mouth as closely as possible
  2. Press the top of the dispenser to release a single spray into your mouth
  3. Avoid spraying your lips and avoid swallowing for a few seconds after spraying
  4. Maximum dose is 2 sprays at a time, 4 sprays per hour and 64 sprays per day
Nicorette 15mg inhalator Nicotine Cartridges

Quick facts:

  • Provides the hand to mouth actions of cigarettes
  • Can be used indoors
  • Helps relieve withdrawal symptoms
  • Air is drawn in and nicotine is released and absorbed through the mouth
  • Available in packs of 4 or 20

How to use

  1. Inhale with the inhalator. You may find you it takes a bit more effort than inhaling from a cigarette.
  2. It is up to you how many inhalators you take and how often you take them.
  3. Each cartridge provides 40 minutes of continual usage.
Nicorette Invisipatch

Quick facts:

  • Provide long-term effective relief from cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • Once-daily patch
  • Releases over 16 hours
  • One pack = one week of craving protection
  • See-through patch for subtle nicotine intake
  • Available in 10mg, 15mg and 25mg
  • Available in packs of 7 or 14

How to use

  1. Place on a clean, dry and hairless part of your body between the neck and waist (upper arms and chest are the most popular places)
  2. Replace daily
  3. Choose a new part of your body for each patch to avoid irritating skin

Nicorette Lozenge

Quick facts:

  • Dual-layer for long lasting taste
  • Available in 2mg – 4mg
  • Available in packs of 20 and 80s
  • Available in icy mint or fruit flavour

How to use

  1. Place the lozenge in your mouth.
  2. Let it slowly dissolve.
  3. Move the lozenge from one side of your mouth to the other (do not swallow).
  4. Repeat step 3 until lozenge has completely dissolved.

Prices from €7.50

Stopping smoking tips

  1. Think positively—you can do this!
  2. Make a list of reasons to quit—this can help you in difficult times.
  3. Avoid your triggers—enjoy a smoke after a drink or during break times? Change your habits to avoid the temptation
  4. Exercise—make use of your healthier heart and lungs
  5. 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.

Services include:

  • 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.

Cold turkey

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.

The pros

  • 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.

The cons

  • Intense withdrawal symptoms—irritability, insomnia, depression, anxiety, headaches and weight gain.
  • Much lower chance of success—only 3%–10% of smokers are able to quit cold turkey.
  • 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.

View our full range of nicotine replacement therapy tools here


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