It’s estimated that in the U.S. up to 25% of the population 18 years of age and older actively smoke cigarettes. Scientists have identified approximately 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, with more than 50 of them known to cause various cancers. As a matter of fact, the World Health Organization, or WHO, has stated that globally one person dies every six seconds from the use of tobacco. It is estimated that one out of every two smokers will die from tobacco-related diseases, such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart attack, stroke and other illnesses.
While the effects from smoking tobacco are cumulative, it is possible to reverse the effects of smoking. Quitting smoking now greatly reduces the chances that you will experience a smoking-related disease, and could increase your lifespan significantly. Your body will begin to heal almost immediately after your last cigarette, and will continue to repair the damage in the days, weeks, months, and years after you have quit.
What happens after you stop smoking?
- In the 20 minutes immediately following your last cigarette, your blood pressure and pulse rate begin to return to normal and the circulation to your extremities increases, delivering much needed, oxygen-rich blood.
- Eight hours after your last cigarette, the carbon monoxide in your system has been 100% eliminated, replaced by the oxygen your cells need to function normally.
- 24 hours after your last cigarette, your risk of having a heart attack begins to decrease thanks to the normalization of your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygenation.
- 48 hours after your last cigarette, the nerve endings that have been blunted begin to reawaken and your sense of smell and taste begin to re-emerge.
- Between two weeks and three months after your last cigarette, your circulation continues to improve and you can now breathe easier. Your lungs now produce less phlegm and your lung function has begun to improve. Your ability to participate in physical activity is greater, as shortness of breath becomes less of an issue.
- In one to nine months after your last cigarette, you will notice a significant decrease in your smoker’s cough. Sinus congestion lessens and fatigue and shortness of breath become virtually non-existent. The tiny, hair-like structures that line the interior of your lung cavities become active once more, and your lungs are now functioning much like they did before you began smoking.
- One year after your last cigarette, your risk of having a heart attack is less than half of that of a regular smoker.
- Between five and 15 years after your last cigarette, you are at no more risk of having a stroke than other non-smokers.
- 10 years after your last cigarette, your risk of developing lung cancer drops significantly. Additionally, your risk of developing other cancers, such as that of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas, significantly decreases. Although you have not smoked a cigarette in 10 years, you still have a higher risk of developing lung cancer than someone who has never smoked, but your risks are significantly decreased than if you had continued smoking.
Why is it so difficult to quit smoking?
So, with all of the negative health impacts that are known to be associated with cigarette smoking, why would we continue to smoke?
In one word: nicotine.
Nicotine is the active ingredient in tobacco and what addicts us to smoking in the first place. It is an organic compound known as an alkaloid and can be found in the leaves of several species of plants, although the main route of consumption is through tobacco. It can also be found in the nightshade, or Solanaceae, family of plants, including tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines (eggplant) and peppers. While nicotine by itself is not carcinogenic, it does contribute to apoptosis by inhibiting UV-induced activation of cell death, a process known to interfere with your body’s ability to destroy potentially cancerous cells.
When smokers try to cut back or quit smoking, they experience withdrawal, a rather unpleasant process whereby the brain triggers a cascade of symptoms designed to drive us to consume nicotine. For most smokers, quitting cold turkey is not an option. The withdrawal process is much too unpleasant and difficult to overcome. However using a nicotine replacement therapy while withdrawing from nicotine has shown to be a successful alternative and has helped many people quit for good.