Quit smoking: how your body thanks you when you stop

Not only will your health dramatically improve if you give up cigarettes, you could literally save tens of thousands of dollars in your lifetime.

There’s never a bad time to quit smoking.

As we embrace another new year, your lungs – and your wallet – will thank you.

As soon as you butt out your last cigarette, your body starts to repair itself.

Over time, your risk of life-threatening health problems, including heart disease and stroke, drops dramatically.

How fast and how well your body recovers can depend on how many cigarettes you normally smoke, how long you’ve smoked and whether you already have a smoking-related disease.

You could also save a small fortune – Quit’s calculator can help you work out how much.

When is the best time to quit smoking?

Quit Victoria director Dr Sarah White says it’s never too late to quit.

Making it a new year’s resolution can be tricky as it involves breaking habits and routines that may not happen in January.

“We recommend getting prepared, mentally planning … but setting your quit date for when you are back in your normal routine,” Dr White says.

“If you always have a smoke in your work coffee-break, but you quit when you’re on holidays, you’re at risk of relapse when you go back to having work coffee-breaks.”

She says another problem with New Year’s resolutions is we tend to throw in the towel as soon as we break one, but quitting is a process that often takes several to many attempts.

“People trying to quit need to keep on trying … even if it takes several practice attempts,” she says.

“Be kind to yourself.

“And if you do fall off the wagon, don’t give up.”

Great reasons to quit smoking

Dr White says some benefits of quitting, such as improved taste and smell and better circulation, can appear within days.

Others, like breathing easier, take longer.

She says there are two key parts to quitting: the physical addiction to nicotine and the habitual or emotional dependence on having a cigarette in certain situations.

“To maximise your chance of success in quitting, you need to address both parts,” Dr White says.

A GP or pharmacist can advise about patches that release a slow, steady level of nicotine, and gum, lozenges or sprays for cravings.

Quitline can also help with habitual or emotional triggers.

Smoking is an addiction, so Dr White says it’s a mid- to long-term process but worth it, especially with Covid-19 posing added risks for smokers.

“There is no doubt that even a few cigarettes a week increases your risk of cancer, stroke, and lung and heart diseases,” she says.

What happens to your body when you quit smoking

The health benefits of quitting smoking start almost immediately, according to Quit.

Here are just some improvements you can expect after:

Six hours

Your heart rate slows and your blood pressure becomes more stable.

Within a day

Almost all the nicotine is out of your bloodstream.

The level of carbon monoxide in your blood has dropped and oxygen can more easily reach your heart and muscles.

Within a week

Your sense of taste and smell may improve.

You have higher blood levels of protective antioxidants such as vitamin C.

Within three months

Your lungs’ natural cleaning system is recovering, becoming better at removing mucus, tar and dust (exercise also helps).

Your blood is less thick and sticky and blood flow to your hands and feet has improved.

After one year

Your lungs are healthier and you’ll be breathing easier.

Within two to five years

There is a large drop in your risk of heart attack and stroke; it will continue to gradually decrease over time.

For women, within five years, the cervical cancer risk is the same as someone who has never smoked.

After 20 years

Your risk of heart attack and stroke is close to a person who has never smoked.

Real life: Going cold turkey can work

Brian Roy, 59, gave up in 2006 after 30 years of smoking.

As an adult, he initially smoked 15 to 20 cigarettes a day, then about 10 as indoor smoking restrictions grew.

Brian, who went cold turkey, says giving up was hard but worth it.

He used to have a regular smokers’ cough and breathing was more difficult after vigorous exercise.

“I thought I would feel better straight away, but it took a while,” Brian says.

“The first thing that improved was my bank balance.

“Eventually, my breathing improved, and I was less puffed after exercise, like running around at my kids’ Auskick sessions.

“It took about two years before I felt I had fully recovered.

“I’m glad I gave up because I have saved a lot of money and I feel much better.”

Written by Cheryl Critchley.