What happens when you stop smoking?
Reviewed by our clinical team
It’s common knowledge that smoking is bad for you – but just how bad is bad? And what exactly happens to your body and your health when you quit?
- Cancer – smoking is the single biggest cause of cancer in the world
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – nearly 9 out of 10 people who die from COPD are smokers
- Stroke – smokers are 3 times more likely to have a stroke than non-smokers
- Coronary heart disease – smokers under 40 are 5 times more likely to have a heart attack
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
After quitting smoking, you will find that breathing becomes easier and circulation and heart health improve. This has the knock-on effect of making it much easier to be active and energetic.
Though stopping smoking cannot completely reverse the damage done to your skin (it’s thought that smoking leads to the breakdown of collagen in the skin, causing wrinkles and sagging), it will halt further damage and can give you a healthier complexion – due to the greater uptake of oxygen. Yellowing fingers and fingernails will also fade back to normal once you quit.
Quitting smoking can also dramatically improve your sex life and fertility. Smoking often leads to erectile dysfunction in men, and difficulties conceiving in women – so quitting should be top of your list of priorities if you’re thinking of trying for a baby.
Lastly, you will save money. ASH estimates that a smoker who smokes 20 a day spends over £3000 on cigarettes a year – so quitting could lead to a significant boost to your finances.
For a more detailed explanation of what happens to your body when you stop smoking, and how much money the average smoker could save, check out the timeline below.
Stop Smoking Timeline
When you smoke, your heart rate increases. About 20 minutes after finishing your last cigarette, your blood pressure and pulse rate return to normal.
Money saved: £0
Nicotine is addictive largely because it’s absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, leading to the release of adrenaline and dopamine (and giving you that familiar headrush), and wears off quickly – causing you to seek the hit again and again. After about 8 hours, nicotine levels in your blood will have halved, and withdrawal symptoms will start to emerge.
The good news is, at around the 8 hour mark, carbon monoxide levels in your blood will also have dropped to around half. The carbon monoxide you inhale in cigarette smoke decreases the amount of oxygen that gets to your heart and at this point, oxygen levels will just be returning to normal.
Right about now, your withdrawal symptoms will be starting to peak. Expect irritability, disturbed sleep, cravings, difficulty concentrating and increased appetite. It’s not pretty, but it won’t last forever.
Money saved: £9
The chemicals in cigarette smoke lead to the overproduction of mucus in your lungs. They also paralyse cilia – tiny, hair-like structures that line the lungs and help to clear out mucus and dirt. After two days, your cilia should be hard at work once again, allowing your lungs to get rid of mucus, dust, dirt and other gunk that’s been collecting there. At this point, your bloodstream will also be clear of carbon monoxide and nicotine.
Best of all, your ability to taste and smell will have already started to improve by this point – breathing in hot, toxic cigarette smoke can seriously numb your senses, but after 48 hours’ respite they’ll be waking up again.
Estimated money saved: up to £18
Smoking causes breathing difficulty by damaging lung tissue, and irritating and inflaming your airways. After around 3 days, breathing should become a lot easier, as your bronchial tubes begin to relax, allowing for greater intake of air. Combined with decreased levels of carbon monoxide, this will lead to a boost to the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. This in turn will lead to improved energy levels.
Now the hard part: around this time, your withdrawal symptoms will probably be peaking. This is because by day three, your body will be completely clear of nicotine, thus your cravings and symptoms will be entering overdrive. The good news is, the first week is usually the hardest. Hold tight.
Estimated money saved: up to £27
At this point in the process, your withdrawal symptoms should have passed completely. If a month goes by and you’re still having symptoms, talk to your GP.
Estimated money saved: up to £260
The toxins in smoke increase the strain on your heart (by making it pump blood harder and faster), and narrow your arteries. These factors can lead to life-threatening conditions such as stroke and heart attack. The good news is, around four weeks after you quit smoking, your circulatory system will begin to return to normal.
Estimated money saved: up to £780
After three months, your lung function will have increased significantly. At the 9 month mark, it should have increased by around 10%.
Estimated money saved: up to £2000
1 year on, your risk of a heart attack will be about half that of a person who is still smoking.
Estimated money saved: up to £3300
Your risk of a heart attack is now the same as someone who has never smoked. And your risk of lung cancer is around half that of a person still smoking. Hats off.
Estimated money saved: up to £67000
Still not convinced? Here’s a reminder of why you should ditch the cigs once and for all…
- Your sex life will improve – stopping smoking leads to increased blood-flow, allowing for men to achieve better erections, and leading to greater sensitivity
- Your teeth will get whiter
- You’ll enjoy eating and drinking as your senses of smell and taste return
- You’ll have more energy
- You’ll live longer – men who quit smoking by 30 add 10 years to their life
- Your loved ones will live longer – more than 80% of second-hand smoke is invisible and odourless, meaning you could be putting other people at risk without being aware of it