Many smokers think that they do not need to quit because they smoke relatively infrequently. However, many damaging effects of smoking can occur just from a few cigarettes each day.
With each cigarette, the heart must expend more energy than it would normally. You can test this for yourself by seeing how your pulse accelerates each time you smoke. Nicotine reduces the supply of blood to the heart and also decreases the oxygen levels in the blood. As a result, the risk of blood clots and heart disease greatly increases. Whilst these hazards are more likely to affect heavy smokers, even a single cigarette each day will vastly increase your risk of lung disease, and of cancer of the lung, throat, mouth, bladder and pancreas.
People who suffer from diabetes or heart disease have a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes because the flow of blood to important areas of the body is already restricted. Smoking can further increase this risk. For example, it has been shown that diabetics who smoke heavily are twice as likely to die from a stroke or heart disease as they would be otherwise.
It is extremely common to encounter difficulties when trying to quit smoking, because of how physically addictive nicotine is. Nicotine has an immediate effect on the brain; suddenly stopping your intake of nicotine can cause feelings of depression and anxiety. If you are struggling with quitting, try nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), an alternative nicotine source that will help reduce the psychological harms associated with quitting. When used effectively, it can help your chances of quitting permanently.
When trying to quit, especially for the first time, it is important to remember that it is very normal to experience these difficulties. Many former smokers only succeed at quitting after a few tries.
Passive (or ‘second-hand’) smoking is the intake of smoke from other people who are smoking in your vicinity. There are more than 4000 chemicals in second-hand smoke, and many of these are known carcinogens. So, even without smoking yourself, you can have an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.
Second-hand smoke is especially hazardous for children. It doubles their risk of respiratory problems such as bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma. Over the course of their life, a child who is frequently exposed to second-hand smoke will have three times the risk of developing lung cancer than they would otherwise have.
Cutting down the amount that you smoke will not remove the harm that smoking does to your body. However, it may reduce certain hazards, and so is a useful step if you are struggling to quit entirely. You might choose to very gradually cut down before quitting, or quit but replace cigarettes with a safer alternative source of nicotine. You will likely opt for a combination of the two – replacing some cigarettes each day with extra nicotine until you have completely stopped smoking.
There are many products that can assist with reducing how frequently you smoke. A local stop-smoking service will advise you on which might be most useful for you.
Some people will gain a small amount of weight upon quitting, because of the way that cigarettes impact your appetite and metabolism. However, this can be counteracted – exercise will become easier, and improved taste buds may make low-calorie foods more enjoyable.
Even if you do start to notice yourself gaining weight, do not be deterred from quitting. You will find it much easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to lose those pounds again.
Your lung capacity will improve by up to 10% after nine months without cigarettes. As a result, you will cough less and find breathing much easier.
Blood circulation and oxygen levels will start to improve within as little as two weeks of quitting smoking. As a result, you will find you have much more energy for physical activity. Headaches will be less frequent as well.
This will all improve your immune system, and so you will be less susceptible to flu and common colds.
Smoking can impede blood flow, so quitting can improve multiple aspects of one’s sex life. Smoking can lead to impotence in men, so quitting may lead to healthier erections. Quitting will improve sensitivity in women, and can lead to better orgasms.
Many non-smokers find the smell and lifestyle of smokers unattractive, so your sex life and relationships may improve in this way as well.
One in every two people who smoke for many years will eventually die early due to complications from smoking. This is due to the drastically higher risk of lung cancer, heart disease and bronchitis, among other hazards.
Quitting before the age of 30 can restore ten years to your expected life span. Even quitting at the age of 60 can restore three years. Quitting also makes it more likely that you will be healthy and happy in old age. So, people of any age can benefit from quitting.
There are two main types of medication that can assist in quitting smoking. They are bupropion (sold as Zyban) and varenicline (sold as Champix).
Bupropion is thought to aid with smoking cessation because of its effect on the areas of the brain responsible for addictive behaviour. You will first be prescribed one to two doses of bupropion each day for one or two weeks before you try to quit. This reflects the amount of time the drug takes to become fully effective. In total, you will likely have to take bupropion for seven to nine weeks.
Varenicline prevents nicotine from affecting the brain in the normal way. This removes the addictive and rewarding effects of cigarettes. As it stops nicotine from affecting its receptors in the brain, varenicline subtly stimulates those same receptors. As a result, it prevents the withdrawal symptoms that people often feel when trying to quit. Like bupropion, varenicline should first be taken for one to two weeks ahead of the day you plan to quit so that it can take full effect. In total, it should be taken for around twelve weeks. In order to prevent a relapse, it may then be prescribed for a further twelve weeks as well.
Possible side effects include a dry mouth, digestive problems, insomnia, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and an inability to focus.
It should not be taken by anyone under the age 18, or by pregnant or breastfeeding women. It is also unsuitable for people with an eating disorder, cirrhosis of the liver or a tumour in the nervous system.
People taking bupropion are more susceptible to seizures, and so those already at risk of seizures should avoid it. These include people with epilepsy, alcohol problems or bipolar disorder. Furthermore, it is unsuitable for anyone currently treating diabetes with insulin or hypoglycaemic medication.
Varenicline has many possible side effects, including:
Varenicline has, in some cases, been linked to depression and suicidal thoughts. The connection between the medication and these symptoms has not been proven. However, immediately stop taking varenicline and consult your GP if you begin to experience these symptoms.
Like bupropion, varenicline should not be taken by anyone under the age 18, or by pregnant or breastfeeding women. It is also unsuitable for anyone with advanced kidney disease or epilepsy.
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