Skip to main content
Medicine LibreTexts

7.5: Quitting Smoking

  • Page ID
    13374
  • Although quitting can be difficult, the health benefits of smoking cessation are immediate and substantial—including reduced risk for cancers, heart disease, and stroke.

    What are the immediate benefits of quitting smoking?

    The immediate health benefits of quitting smoking are substantial:

    • Heart rate and blood pressure, which are abnormally high while smoking, begin to return to normal.

    • Within a few hours, the level of carbon monoxide in the blood begins to decline. (Carbon monoxide reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.)

    • Within a few weeks, people who quit smoking have improved circulation, produce less phlegm, and don’t cough or wheeze as often.

    • Within several months of quitting, people can expect substantial improvements in lung function.

    • Within a few years of quitting, people will have lower risks of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases than if they had continued to smoke.

    • In addition, people who quit smoking will have an improved sense of smell, and food will taste better.

    What are the long-term benefits of quitting smoking?

    Quitting smoking reduces the risk of cancer and many other diseases, such as heart disease and COPD, caused by smoking.

    Data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey show that people who quit smoking, regardless of their age, are less likely to die from smoking-related illness than those who continue to smoke. Smokers who quit before age 40 reduced their chance of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases by about 90 percent, and those who quit by age 45-54 reduced their chance of dying prematurely by about two-thirds.

    People who quit smoking, regardless of their age, have substantial gains in life expectancy compared with those who continue to smoke. Those who quit between the ages of 25 and 34 years lived about 10 years longer; those who quit between ages 35 and 44 lived about 9 years longer; those who quit between ages 45 and 54 lived about 6 years longer; and those who quit between ages 55 and 64 lived about 4 years longer.

    Does quitting smoking lower the risk of cancer?

    Yes. Quitting smoking reduces the risk of developing and dying from cancer. Although it is never too late to get a benefit from quitting, the benefit is strongest among those who quit at a younger age.

    The risk of premature death and the chance of developing cancer from smoking depend on many factors, including the number of years a person smokes, the number of cigarettes he or she smokes per day, the age at which he or she began smoking, and whether or not he or she was already ill at the time of quitting. For people who have already developed cancer, quitting smoking reduces the risk of developing a second cancer.

    Should someone already diagnosed with cancer bother to quit smoking?

    Yes. Cigarette smoking has a profound adverse impact on health outcomes in cancer patients. For patients with some cancers, quitting smoking at the time of diagnosis may reduce the risk of dying by 30 percent to 40 percent. For those having surgery, chemotherapy, or other treatments, quitting smoking helps improve the body’s ability to heal and respond to therapy. It also lowers the risk of pneumonia and respiratory failure. Moreover, quitting smoking may lower the risk of the cancer returning, of dying from the cancer, of a second cancer developing, and of dying from other causes.

    Are There Effective Treatments for Tobacco Addiction?

    Tobacco addiction is a chronic disease that often requires multiple attempts to quit. Although some smokers are able to quit without help, many others need assistance. Both behavioral interventions (counseling) and medication can help smokers quit; but the combination of medication with counseling is more effective than either alone.

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) has established a national toll-free quitline, 800-QUIT-NOW, to serve as an access point for any smoker seeking information and assistance in quitting.  NIDA’s scientists are looking at ways to make smoking cessation easier by developing tools to make behavioral support available over the internet or through text-based messaging. In addition, NIDA is developing strategies designed to help vulnerable or hard-to-reach populations quit smoking.

    Behavioral Treatments

    Behavioral treatments employ a variety of methods to help smokers  quit, ranging from self-help materials to counseling. These interventions teach people to recognize high-risk situations and develop coping strategies to deal with them.

    Nicotine Replacement Treatments

    Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) were the first pharmacological treatments approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in smoking cessation therapy. Current FDA-approved NRT products include nicotine chewing gum, the nicotine transdermal patch, nasal sprays, inhalers, and lozenges.  NRTs deliver a controlled dose of nicotine to a smoker in order to relieve withdrawal symptoms during the smoking cessation process. They are most successful when used in combination with behavioral treatments.

    Other Medications

    Bupropion and varenicline are two FDA-approved non-nicotine medications that have helped people quit smoking. Bupropion, a medication that goes by the trade name Zyban, was approved by the FDA in 1997, and Varenicline tartrate (trade name: Chantix) was approved in 2006. It targets nicotine receptors in the brain, easing withdrawal symptoms and blocking the effects of nicotine if people resume smoking.

    Current Treatment Research

    Scientists are currently developing new smoking cessation therapies. For example, they are working on a nicotine vaccine, which would block nicotine’s reinforcing effects by causing the immune system to bind to nicotine in the bloodstream preventing it from reaching the brain. In addition, some medications already in use might work better if they are used together. Scientists are looking for ways to  target several relapse symptoms at the same time—like withdrawal, craving and depression.

     

    Licenses and Attributions

    Public Domain Content