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hand putting out a cigarette ways to quit smoking
By In-house Team, Circle Health Group

How to give up smoking

Giving up smoking is one of the best things you can do to improve your health. We share 5 great reasons to quit smoking, plus 10 tips to help you quit for good this time. There's also a timeline to help you see how your body recovers when you give up smoking.

Despite the dangers of smoking being well documented in society, around 6.6 million adults in the UK still smoke regularly. That's 13.3% of adults. If you're a smoker struggling to give up the habit, you're far from alone.

It's never too late to quit smoking and it doesn't matter if you've tried before but given in. Many people will go through multiple failed attempts before finally cracking it. No one is saying it will be easy, but it absolutely can be done. And it is one of the best things you can do to improve your health.

We're sharing our 5 most important reasons to quit smoking, along with our top 10 tips for giving up smoking. Then, we've put together a timeline of what happens when you quit smoking, so that you can see how your body recovers over time.

If you're ready to stop the habit, pay close attention to the information we're sharing below, then consider speaking with your GP or another healthcare professional about getting support. Studies show that you're more likely to be successful in quitting smoking if you have support through the journey.

5 reasons to quit smoking

Even if you've been a regular smoker for years, stopping is one of the best things you can do to look after your health. It's never too late to reap the benefits of quitting smoking.

Quitting smoking is hard, but it can be done. If you're looking for that final push, read our top five reasons to quit smoking and discover how it can significantly improve your health and wellbeing.

1. Quitting smoking reduces your risk of lung cancer (and other cancers)

Smoking is the leading cause of cancer overall in the UK.

Smoking is the cause of 72% of the 47,000 cases of lung cancer in the UK each year.

Many people are aware of this link between smoking and lung cancer, but there are actually 15 types of cancer known to be caused by smoking.

If smokers quit before the age of 30, they can avoid almost all risk of lung cancer attributable to smoking, and the risk of the other 14 types of cancer falls significantly too. This is just one of many health benefits of quitting, but it's a big one.

2. Quitting smoking reduces your risk of heart disease

Smokers have a much higher risk of heart attack than non-smokers. If you're a smoker under 40, you're as much as five times more likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers.

If you quit smoking, your risk of having a heart attack will drop to about half that of a smoker within one year. Smoking also doubles your risk of dying from a stroke, and again quitting is the best way to minimise this.

After 15 years, your risk of heart disease falls to a level similar to that of a person who has never smoked.

3. Quitting smoking improves your fertility

Smoking, including passive smoking, affects fertility for both men and women. It is linked to sperm abnormalities in men and has been shown to affect the receptivity of the womb in women.

4. Non-smokers can enjoy better sex

Women who quit smoking may find they become aroused more easily and enjoy better orgasms, and men who stop smoking may reduce impotence and get better erections.

5. Quitting smoking helps increase energy levels

Your circulation will improve in as little as two weeks after you stopping smoking, so you'll feel the almost immediate benefits of having more energy as oxygen levels in your body increase.

It may make exercise easier and headaches less frequent. Your immune system will also function better, protecting you from colds and the flu.

Studies show that you're more likely to be successful in quitting smoking if you have support through the journey.

10 ways to stop smoking

There are so many reasons to quit smoking - far more than the five we've listed above. As well as reducing your risk of various types of cancer, stopping cigarette smoking can lower your blood pressure and heart rate, reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Other health benefits include improved fitness, less shortness of breath and reduced carbon monoxide levels (and increased oxygen levels) in your blood.

However, no matter how much you want to, stopping smoking can be a tough road. It takes planning and commitment and you should welcome and even seek out as much help as possible.

Here are ten practical, tried-and-tested tips to help you give up cigarettes for good.

1. Set a date

Tempting as it may be to say that you'll stop 'one day' or cut down gradually, this kind of vague promise to yourself is hard to stick to when the cravings hit.

Set a date for quitting and stick to it and make it sooner rather than later.

2. Identify when cravings strike

The first step to beating your cravings is knowing when to expect them. Common times to smoke are when drinking, after dinner and in stressful or emotional situations.

Work out the things that trigger your cravings and write them down so you can't kid yourself later.

If you always smoke at a particular time, consider switching up your routine to distract yourself - do the dishes, get out for a walk or move to a different room.

3. Plan ahead

Now you know your pressure points, you'll need contingency plans to cope with them. You could try calling on friends who will be strict with you, escaping a party for a walk instead of going out for a smoke or finding a mantra to use when you're tempted.

4. Adjust your diet

One study found that some foods, including meat, make cigarettes more satisfying. If you have been accustomed to having a cigarette after dinner, opt for foods containing fruit, vegetables and cheese as these can make cigarettes taste very unpleasant.

5. Consider your drinks order

An evening of drinking is a tough time for people giving up smoking. Alcohol makes cigarettes taste better so alternate boozy drinks with water or juice- you'll also be better able to keep your resolve when you have a clearer head.

Changing your drinking routine can help too - order a drink you've never tried before or treat yourself to something you rarely have.

6. Make new friends

If you're out and about or at a party, stick with the non-smokers to help you resist cravings. Longer term this will also lead you to shift your perspective on smoking. Most non-smokers find the habit unpleasant and a bit strange, and after a while you'll start to think so too.

7. Keep your hands and mouth busy

You can double your chances of quitting successfully with nicotine replacement therapy. Products such as inhalators and gum distract you from the fact that you're not holding a cigarette. E-cigarettes are also helpful for a lot of people, and one study found that they can be up to twice as effective as other nicotine replacement therapies. Speak to your GP or local stop smoking service about whether vaping can help you quit smoking.

Alternatively, find a new hobby that keeps your hands busy and mind occupied, like playing the guitar, knitting or painting.

8. Try prescription medicines and other therapies

There are medicines available which help you stay strong by reducing the intensity of cravings. They take about two weeks to kick in, so you should plan to start taking them before you stop smoking.

Speak to your doctor to get medical advice about whether stop-smoking medicines are right for you - they are only available on prescription.

Hypnotherapy and acupuncture are also used to help people give up smoking and other habitual behaviours, and many people find them highly successful.

9. Move more

Quitting smoking is the perfect opportunity to get fit. Not only will you be able to breathe more easily but exercise can help to quash cravings.

When you want a cigarette, even getting out for a brisk five-minute walk releases chemicals in your brain to curb cravings.

10. Don't give up

If you relapse, don't despair. It's not inevitable that you'll slide back into old habits; simply use your slip-up as a learning experience.

Remind yourself of all the reasons you decided to quit in the first place and put more plans in place to make sure you don't relapse again.

Five years is also an important milestone for cancer - by this time you are half as likely as a smoker to die from lung cancer and half as likely to develop mouth, throat or oesophageal cancer.

What happens when you quit smoking?

We've already explored the negative impacts of smoking, but knowing about all the positive changes happening in your body when you quit can help give you the motivation to beat your cravings. We've put together a timeline to show you all of the ways your body will thank you for quitting smoking at each milestone.

The first day

Within 20 minutes of finishing your last cigarette your blood pressure and pulse rate return to normal and your body temperature stabilises. If you are a regular smoker, you may know all about the nicotine withdrawal symptoms that usually begin after around two hours. These symptoms can include feelings of anxiety and an increased appetite.

After eight hours the nicotine in your bloodstream drops by over 90% and the level of carbon monoxide is also significantly reduced. The amount of oxygen that your red blood cells carry increases to a normal level.

In just 24 hours without a cigarette, your chance of having a heart attack decreases. Around this time the symptoms of anxiety associated with nicotine withdrawals are at their peak - if you can get through the first day, your symptoms will start to abate.

The first week

Two days after quitting smoking, your damaged nerve endings start to regrow, which means your senses of smell and taste improve and start to return to normal. By this point your blood is completely nicotine-free and almost free from the chemicals produced when your body breaks nicotine down. Your lungs are also starting to relax, which makes breathing easier and increases your lung capacity.

The first month

The blood circulation in your teeth and gums is improving and is comparable to that of someone who has never smoked. Your lung capacity increases by up to 30% compared to when you smoked, your circulation improves and exercise feels easier.

Your brain is also starting to forget about nicotine completely as the receptors return to normal. This means that withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia and restlessness have ended completely.

The first year

After a year smoke-free you notice general improvements to your feeling of wellbeing - you should no longer feel short of breath and if you had a chronic cough as a smoker then this will have subsided. Your immune system is stronger and you'll feel more energetic. Your risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke has halved since you quit smoking.

The long-term effects

Once you go a year without tobacco, you are free from cravings and withdrawal symptoms, even if you smoked heavily before you stopped. After around two years your risk of having a heart attack is the same as if you had never smoked and after five years your risk of having a stroke also returns to normal.

Five years is also an important milestone for cancer - by this time you are half as likely as a smoker to die from lung cancer and half as likely to develop mouth, throat or oesophageal cancer.

On average, non-smokers live 14 years longer than smokers and after 15 years smoke-free your risk of most chronic conditions is the same as a person who has never smoked.


Benefits of stopping smoking timeline

Our simplified timeline shows just how soon you'll feel the health benefits of stopping smoking.

  • After 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal
  • After 8 hours, the levels of nicotine and carbon monoxide in your blood drop significantly and the oxygen levels rise
  • After 1 day your heart and lungs start to repair themselves and your body starts to clear out the toxins found in cigarette smoke
  • After 2 days, your body is clear of nicotine. You may start to smell and taste things more clearly
  • After 3 days, your breathing improves. You may feel more energised and have less shortness of breath
  • After 1 week, nicotine withdrawal symptoms should be much less severe and quitting should feel a lot easier
  • 3 months in, your circulation improves and your voice may even change, becoming less hoarse
  • After 9 months, your lung function has improved by 10% and you should have shaken off any persistent cough
  • 1 year after you quit smoking, your risk of heart attack has fallen by half
  • After 10 years, your risk of lung cancer has fallen by half
  • If you quit smoking for 15 years, your risk of heart attack is the same as someone who has never smoked

How to get help with quitting smoking

If the thought of going cold turkey sounds too hard, there are many tools and support channels available to support you to stop smoking. You can download the free NHS Quit Smoking app, or speak directly to your GP or to a specialist about nicotine replacement therapy and emotional support.

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If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on this subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Circle Hospital.