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January 22, 2024

The surprising health advantages of quitting smoking at any age

Prevention Smoking

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Nearly everyone knows that smoking is bad for their health. Inhaling tobacco by smoking cigarette smoke or vaping increases the risk of:

 Many types of cancer
• Heart disease and stroke
• Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
• Diabetes

But smoking is very, very addictive. That not only makes it hard to quit; it can literally make it harder to decide to quit — and easier to start again.

Many smokers may think, “I’ve been smoking for so long…the damage is done! What’s the point of quitting now?”

But quitting at any time has profound benefits for our health and quality of life. Those benefits begin much faster than people may realize and keep expanding the longer we don’t smoke.

This Timeline Could Be a Lifeline

When we stop smoking, the health advantages begin almost immediately. And the longer we don’t smoke, the better they get.

Here’s a timeline of what happens to your body when you quit smoking:

• Within 20 minutes: Heart rate and blood pressure drop to a healthier level.

 Within 24 hours: Blood nicotine level drops to zero.

 Within a few days: The carbon monoxide level in the blood is the same as in a non-smoker.

 Within 2-3 months: Blood circulation and lung function improve.

 Within 1 year: Lung capacity and stamina increase significantly.

 Within 1-2 years: Heart attack risk gets much lower.

 Within 3-6 years: Coronary artery disease risk is cut in half.

 Within 5-10 years: Added risk of getting mouth, throat, or laryngeal cancer drops 50 percent, and stroke risk decreases substantially.

 After 10 years: Added risk of lung cancer drops 50 percent; our risk of bladder, esophageal, and kidney cancers also goes down sharply.

 Added 15 years: Coronary heart disease risk becomes almost as low as if we had never smoked at all.

 After 20 years: Risk of mouth, throat, laryngeal, and pancreatic cancer decreases to almost the same level as someone who has never smoked, and added risk of cervical cancer drops in half.

Quitting smoking at any time can increase our life span by as much as ten years. And quitting before the age of 40 reduces our risk of death from smoking-related disease by about 90 percent. But even if we only quit temporarily, it’s still better than not quitting at all!

Other Benefits of Quitting

The perks of quitting smoking go beyond improving our health. And sometimes focusing on those other benefits can help motivate us to take that big step.

Breathing easier
Smoking injures our lungs over time, so it’s harder for us to get the oxygen we need. Climbing stairs, exercising, doing housework, and gardening get us out of breath much more easily, and we may feel tired all the time.

We may also start coughing, which makes it harder to catch our breath. Over time we may develop COPD. And if we have asthma, smoking also makes that worse.

Quitting gives our lungs a chance to heal. And they do heal, though it doesn’t happen overnight.

Coming (back) to our senses
Smoking damages nerves in our mouths and noses, making our senses of taste and smell much less sensitive. This happens so gradually most people don’t even notice it.

But within just 48 hours of quitting, our nerve endings start to regrow. Within two weeks, these senses usually start to return in a noticeable way. So we can appreciate nice fragrances and delicious flavors much more like we used to.

Smelling and looking better
Smoking not only impairs our sense of smell; we also get used to the smell of smoke over time. Eventually we can’t tell that our breath, our hair, our clothes, our cars, and our homes smell like an ashtray. Plus, smoking turns our teeth and nails yellow and prematurely ages our skin.

Saving money
A typical smoker spends about $130 per month on cigarettes; that’s more than $1,500 a year.

Over a lifetime, the average smoker in Pennsylvania spends more than $167,000 on cigarettes — and more than $204,000 in associated medical costs. When you factor in all the other things the smoker could have done with their money, lost income, and other costs, the total price tag is over 3 million dollars. I can think of much better ways to spend that kind of money!

Saving the people we care about
Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals, at least 70 of which cause cancer. You probably wouldn’t voluntarily eat cyanide, arsenic, formaldehyde, ammonia, or lead. But that’s what we inhale when we smoke. And that’s what we’re exposing the people around us to.

Second-hand smoke:

• Causes measurable inflammatory and respiratory effects within minutes that can last for hours
• Increases children’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory and ear infections, and asthma attacks
• Can create reproductive health problems, including low-birth-weight infants
• Increases adults’ risk of coronary artery disease, lung cancer, strokes, and premature death
• Has killed over two million people in the U.S. since 1964

Then there’s third-hand smoke, which accumulates on surfaces and soaks into clothing, furniture, carpets, and other fabrics. It’s very hard to remove and poses a major health risk to nonsmokers — especially children.

Quitting Is Possible

This article has tips on how to quit, including smoking cessation resources available to Independence Blue Cross members.

These additional resources may also help:

 CDC: Free Help to Quit Smoking
• American Lung Association: Freedom from Smoking®
• Mayo Clinic: 10 Ways to Resist Tobacco Cravings

Quitting smoking is hard. Many people quit, then start again, then quit again, then start again. But even quitting temporarily is better than not quitting at all — and has plentiful health and quality-of-life benefits for smokers and non-smokers alike.

This content was originally published on IBX Insights.

About Dr. Nuria Lopez-Pajares

Dr. Nuria Lopez-Pajares joined Independence Blue Cross in 2018 after practicing primary care and population health for 18 years. With a background in public health and preventive medicine, she is now a medical director involved in utilization management, case management, and quality improvement. What she loves about this job is the opportunity to put prevention into practice and educate.

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