As soon as you stop smoking, your body begins to repair all the damage. And the sooner you quit, the better your health.
by The Iowa Clinic on Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Smoking is bad for you. We’ve all heard it. The public health campaigns built around the health effects of smoking have been quite effective, decreasing the number of smokers in America by 33 percent between 2005 and 2017.
Yet 14 percent of adults nationwide haven’t heeded those health warnings. In Polk County, the numbers are higher. More than 17 percent of adults still smoke — a rate that’s right on par with the state of Iowa averages but five points higher than neighboring Dallas County.
For the more the 419,000 adult Iowans who haven’t kicked the habit, there are a number of health consequences that make a compelling case for quitting.
Smoking kills. Quitting helps save you from death and disease.
In Iowa and across the country, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disability. Unlike the vaping trend shaking the nation, it isn’t a quick, unexpected death. Smoking cigarettes contributes to an extraordinary number of chronic diseases and cancers.
Smoking damages nearly every part of your body. But there are some conditions that are much more serious and greatly reduce your quality of life.
Lung cancer accounts for 27 percent of all cancer deaths in Iowa. Almost all are a result of smoking. Both men and women are 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer if they smoke. And some awful symptoms come along with it, including constant chest pain, chronic cough, recurring lung infections and coughing up blood.
If smoking doesn’t give you lung cancer, chances are it will give you chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Nine in 10 cases of COPD are due to smoking cigarettes. This lung disease makes it difficult to breathe, opens your lungs to frequent infections, causes a chronic cough and leaves you fatigued. And it only gets worse over time.
Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths. Cardiovascular disease is No. 1 overall. And the two are linked — smokers are up to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than non-smokers. A smoking habit of as few as five cigarettes a day causes your blood vessels to shrink, which leads to blockages and limits the amount of oxygen that gets to your heart or brain. When that happens, you can suffer a heart attack or stroke.
Diet and weight aren’t the only things that cause type 2 diabetes. Smoking increases your risk of developing diabetes by up to 40 percent. If you continue smoking cigarettes after your diagnosis, it makes managing your condition that much more difficult. Both smoking and diabetes constrict blood flow, causing heart problems, kidney disease and circulation issues that lead to foot conditions.
Those are the some of the scariest smoking-related conditions but the list is long. Smoking weakens your immune system, making it more difficult to fend off disease. Aside from lung cancer, you’re more likely to develop more than 10 other types, including colon cancer, pancreatic cancer and leukemia.
It’s Never Too Late to Quit
Get the help you need to kick the habit.
Talk to your doctor
The benefits of quitting kick in minutes after you kick the habit.
It’s true. While smoking does a lot of irreversible damage to your health, some parts of your body start recovering as soon as you stop. Over time, your body heals and your risks for a variety of cancers and diseases drops dramatically.
Timeline of Health Benefits After You Quit Smoking
Heart rate returns to normal.
Blood pressure drops.
Carbon monoxide levels in the blood normalize.
2 Weeks to 3 Months
Heart attack risk decreases.
Lung function improves.
1 to 9 Months
Coughing and risk of lung infection decrease.
Risk of cardiovascular disease is cut in half.
Stroke risk returns to normal rate.
Risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder and cervical cancer drops sharply.
Risk of dying of lung cancer is cut by 50 percent.
Risk of larynx, kidney and pancreatic cancer decreases.
Risk of coronary heart disease drops to that of non-smoker.
These aren’t the only benefits of quitting. Even small things in your life will change for the better. The health of your skin will improve. Your sense of taste and smell will return, making food taste better and scents stronger. Your teeth and nails stop turning yellow. And your hair, nails and clothes no longer smell of smoke.
Smoking Cessation Tips
The timeline of health benefits shows it’s never too late to quit smoking. You can improve your health immediately. But quitting is easier said than done. Nicotine is highly addictive. Many people have tried and tried to stop smoking but can’t overcome their addiction.
Quitting cold turkey works for some people. There are many smoking cessation products, methods and programs to stop smoking that may work for others. Adopt a combination of these proven strategies to kick the habit for good.
1. Create a quit plan.
Smokers who make a quit plan are more likely to succeed. When you have a plan, you’re prepared to make the changes necessary to kick the habit and ready for the obstacles you’ll face on your quit journey. A good quit plan includes:
- A firm quit date
- Reasons for quitting
- Removal of smoking reminders and triggers
- Ways to handle triggers, cravings and nicotine withdrawal
- Support from family, friends and programs
- Rewards for hitting milestones
2. Chew nicotine gum or wear a patch.
A concrete plan and support can’t stop the cravings. Overcoming them is especially difficult in the beginning. Nicotine replacement products like Nicorette gum or Nicoderm CQ patches can help you avoid smoking while weaning you of your addiction over time. There’s just enough nicotine in these products to feed the urges. Over time, you can use them less and less until you’re completely free of your nicotine addiction.
3. Control cravings with medication.
Gum, lozenges, patches, nasal sprays and more can all help when you feel the draw to smoke. Prescription medications can too. Some can be used alongside nicotine replacement products. Prescription drugs like Zyban® or Chantix® help reduce the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. They are more effective for smokers with severe dependencies. So if you smoke more than a pack a day, light up right after you wake up or get up in the night to have a cigarette, medication could help you quit.
There are resources and programs to help you stop smoking.
Smoking is a public health issue that receives strong support. There are a number of local and national programs to help you succeed in your goal of quitting.
Quitline Iowa is a free smoking cessation program. You can get coaching and support over the phone (at 1-800-QUIT-NOW) or email and access a variety of online resources to help you along the way. They also offer limited supplies of nicotine replacement products at no cost to you so you can more easily find the method that works for you.
Freedom From Smoking
On the national level, the American Lung Association offers one of the most effective smoking cessation programs in the country, Freedom From Smoking. You get tips, strategies, live help from quit specialists and support from other people in the community who have already quit or are going through the program alongside you.
Your Health Care Team
Your primary care provider is also a great resource. You can get nicotine replacement products over the counter and access programs online or over the phone. But for medications, you need a prescription from your doctor.
They can also assess the damage smoking has already caused. Schedule an appointment with your provider for a health check, and potentially, a lung cancer screening. Then discuss your plans to quit smoking to find the best methods for you.