When burned, cigarettes create more than 7,000 damaging chemicals, many of which are proven to cause cancer and other serious illnesses.
The health benefits of quitting start immediately and continue for a long time if you don’t start smoking again. Smoking is also very expensive, so the sooner you stop, the more you save.
Cutting out harmful chemicals
Cigarette smoke mainly consists of tar, carbon monoxide and the addictive substance nicotine.
Tar: A toxic mix of chemicals that can cause cancer, lung disease, heart disease and other harmful conditions.
Carbon monoxide: This is the poisonous gas you inhale when you smoke. It’s linked to heart disease and adverse effects in pregnancy.
Nicotine: The highly addictive component of cigarette smoke. Nicotine causes addiction similar to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
Other poisonous chemicals in cigarette smoke include:
- hydrogen cyanide
Health benefits over time
- After 20 minutes: Your heart rate drops
- 8 hours: Nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in your blood reduce by half
- 1 day: Carbon monoxide and nicotine are cleared from your body
- 2 days: Your ability to taste and smell is improved
- 2-12 weeks: Circulation improves and your lung function increases
- 1 year: Your risk of having a heart attack falls to half that of a smoker
- 5 years : Stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker, in most cases
- 10 years: Your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a smoker
- 15 years: Your risk of having a heart attack falls to that of a non-smoker
Reducing the risk of organ damage
Smoking harms nearly every organ in your body, causing many different illnesses and diseases. Some of these are life-threatening diseases such as cancer, lung disease, heart disease and stroke.
Half of all long-term smokers will die prematurely as a result of smoking. Half of these will be in middle age.
Your heart rate rises within one minute of starting to smoke. It could rise by as much as 30% within the first 10 minutes of smoking.
You’re at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease even with very light smoking. The following are examples of cardiovascular disease:
- Heart attack: The average smoker is twice as likely as a non-smoker to have a heart attack.
- Coronary heart disease: Ex-smokers have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared with current smokers.
- Arterial disease: Smoking makes you 10 times more likely to develop arterial disease, which blocks your arteries. This can lead to fatal heart attacks, strokes or gangrene of the leg, which often requires amputation.
- Stroke: the risk of a smoker taking a stroke is twice that of a non-smoker.
People who smoke more than double their risk of developing macular disease, which is the most common cause of severe sight loss. Macular disease damages light-sensing cells at the back of your eye, causing a loss of central vision. Sometimes this disease cannot be treated.
Smoking is also linked to the development of cataracts, which are a clouding that develops in the lens of the eye. People with cataracts have reduced vision and the condition will lead to blindness if left untreated.
Cardiovascular disease can also damage delicate blood vessels in your eye, leading to sight loss.
Lung cancer was almost unheard of before the smoking of manufactured cigarettes became popular.
There are approximately 800 lung cancer deaths in Northern Ireland each year. Of these, approximately 700 are caused by smoking.
The risk of getting lung cancer is 15 times greater for a smoker than a non-smoker. The risk of lung cancer also increases over time and is related to both:
- how many cigarettes you smoke each day
- how long you have been smoking
COPD means your lungs lose their ability to transfer oxygen to the bloodstream. A chronic cough (‘smokers cough’) or difficulty breathing are usually signs of COPD. If you have either of these signs, it’s best to contact your GP to have a lung function test carried out.
- Shortness of breath
Improvement in physical appearance
Smoking also damages your looks, but stopping smoking can have a real positive effect on your appearance.
- Smoking dries your skin, leading to premature wrinkles. Stopping smoking can make you look younger.
- Squinting when smoke gets in your eyes and puckering your mouth when inhaling causes wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. Stopping smoking will prevent these wrinkles appearing early.
- People who smoke often have a grey, wasted appearance. Stopping smoking can bring back a healthy skin tone.
- Smokers are two or three times more likely than non-smokers to develop psoriasis, a chronic skin condition. Stopping smoking will help your skin recover its natural texture.
- Smoking damages blood vessels in the eyes, creating a bloodshot appearance. Stopping smoking will help your eyes recover.
- Smokers have stained teeth and gums and bad breath, no matter how much they brush, floss and visit their dentist. Stopping smoking will significantly improve your breath and prevent any further damage to your teeth.
- Smoking discolours fingers and fingernails.