Despite a significant drop in the number of smokers since the implementation of the 2007 ban, there are still more than 9 million active smokers in Britain. This equates to around 15% of all UK adults.[1]

A large number of these people are individuals who have smoked for years and are finding it hard to kick the habit, rather than new smokers. As such, smoking among 18 to 24-year-olds has fallen faster than in older age groups.[2]

Finding the motivation to quit can be difficult for existing smokers, which is why it’s important to know exactly how and when your health will improve once you make the decision to quit. We’re going to take a look at the impact stopping smoking can have over time, from 20 minutes to 20 years.

What impact does smoking have on your body?

Smoking has a huge impact on your health. In fact, it is the most common preventable cause of death and disease in the UK, where nearly 80,000 people die every year due to smoking-related causes.[3]

On average, smoking reduces your life expectancy by 10 years, and after the age of 40 every year you continue to smoke cuts your life expectancy by a further three months. Smoking impacts the health of many parts of your body, including your lungs, heart, brain, arteries and senses.

Some of the issues associated with smoking include:

- Cardiovascular disease

- Stroke

- Respiratory disease

- Blood clots

- Fertility issues

- Cancer, including cancer of the bladder, blood, cervix, colon, kidney, larynx, liver, lung, oesophagus, pancreas, stomach, tongue, throat and trachea, among others.[4]

Why do we smoke?

There’s a reason why people find it so hard to quit smoking. Inhaling cigarette smoke regularly makes alterations to your brain. This means that, once you quit, your brain has to relearn a way of doing things without relying on regular nicotine hits.

Nicotine alters the balance of two chemicals in the brain: dopamine and noradrenaline. When the levels of these chemicals change, so too do your mood and concentration levels, which smokers often find to be a positive experience.[5]

A nicotine rush produces these pleasurable feelings instantly, and the more you smoke the more your brain becomes used to these nicotine ‘hits’. This creates a vicious cycle, as you then have to smoke more to get the same effect.

What happens when you quit?

The effects of quitting smoking start to appear in as little as 20 minutes after smoking your last cigarette. By the time you have stopped smoking for a few weeks or months, you’ll notice significant benefits to your health and wellbeing. Meanwhile, successfully quitting for years can dramatically reduce your risk of serious health concerns.[6]

After 20 minutes: Your pulse rate returns to normal. Blood pressure begins to drop and circulation starts to improve.

After 8 hours: Nicotine levels and carbon monoxide levels in the blood drop by more than half. Oxygen levels also return to normal.[7]

After 48 hours: Carbon monoxide is eliminated entirely from the body, and your lungs start to clear out mucus. Other debris is also cleared from the lungs. Nicotine has left the body. Your sense of smell and taste will improve.

After 72 hours: Breathing becomes easier and bronchial tubes begin to relax. Energy levels increase. You may also experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms including moodiness, irritability, headaches and cravings. This is the period where most people feel the greatest urge to smoke again.[8]

After 1-3 months: Circulation continues to improve over the first few months after quitting. In as little as a month, your lung function starts to improve and you may notice less coughing and shortness of breath. You might also experience a renewed ability for cardiovascular activities like running and jumping.

After 9 months: By this point, the lungs have healed significantly. Cilia – hair-like structures within the lungs – have recovered and will help push mucus out of the lungs to fight infections.

After 1 year: Your risk of coronary heart disease has dropped to about half of that of a person who is still smoking. This will continue to drop past the one-year point.

After 5 years: The body has healed enough for arteries and blood vessels to widen again. Smoking causes the arteries and blood vessels to narrow, increasing your likelihood of blood clots.[9] Because of this, five years of not smoking can significantly reduce your risk of stroke. Over the next 10 years, this risk will drop even lower.

After 10 years: Your risk of developing lung cancer has dropped to that of a non-smoker.[10] Your chances of developing mouth, throat or pancreatic cancer have also been significantly reduced.

After 15 years: Your risk of a heart attack is now at the same level as that of a person who has never smoked. Similarly, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer is also the same as that of a non-smoker.

After 20 years: After successfully quitting for two decades, your risk of death from smoking-related causes like lung disease and cancer will have dropped to the same rate as a person who has never smoked in their life.

How to quit successfully

Quitting means something different to everyone. For some people, smoking alternatives like vaping offer the best chance of success. In fact, more than three and a half million people in the UK currently use vapes.[11]

For others, nicotine patches help to reduce cravings and improve their chance of quitting, while some people look to support groups and programmes to help keep their willpower in check.

Even simple lifestyle changes can make a significant difference when it comes to stopping smoking. Factors like regular exercise, keeping your hands busy, drink and diet changes, making non-smoking friends and maintaining realistic expectations can all help to improve your chances of quitting.[12]

For many people, safe and effective smoking cessation medication is the most effective way to quit smoking for good. Research shows that drug treatment like Champix can improve the success of quitting several fold.[13]

Effective smoking cessation medication like Champix is available here at Express Pharmacy. Get in touch with one of our pharmacists today by calling 0208 123 07 03 or using our online Live Chat service.

[1] Cancer Research UK. Tobacco statistics. 2018

[2] Public Health England. Turning the tide on tobacco: Smoking in England hits a new low. 2018

[3] Bobak, A. PhD. Effects of smoking. Bupa UK. 2018

[4] Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. Smoking and Tobacco Use: Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. 2017

[5] NHS UK. Why is smoking addictive? 2018

[6] NHS UK. 10 health benefits of stopping smoking. 2018

[7] NHS UK. Quitting is the best thing you’ll ever do. 2017

[8] Cancer Research UK. Smokers underestimate nicotine cravings. 2008

[9] Heart.org. Understand Your Risk for Excessive Blood Clotting. 2019

[10] NHS UK. Quitting is the best thing you’ll ever do. 2017

[11] Stubley, P. Vaping ‘linked to 200 health problems in the UK including pneumonia’. The Independent. 2019

[12] NHS UK. 10 self-help tips to stop smoking. 2018

[13] Heydari, G. FallahTafti, S. Quit smoking with Champix: Parallel, randomised clinical trial of efficacy for the first time in Iran. European Respiratory Journal. 2012