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Why should I quit smoking?

The Benefits Of Quitting Smoking

Linda Hyder Ferry (Associate Professor, Preventive Medicine and Family Medicine, Loma Linda University School of Medicine) gives expert video advice on: Why should I quit smoking?; What are the health benefits of quitting smoking?; What are the immediate health benefits of quitting smoking? and more...

Why should I quit smoking?

Are you really willing to pay the health consequences and the financial cost of this through a lifetime? It amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars if you really look at an adult's lifetime expense for using cigarettes. If you look at how much you love life, you are paying a very high risk of dying prematurely of a tobacco related illness. That affects not just you, that affects your family, your employer, your friends, that affects everything.

What are the health benefits of quitting smoking?

One of the most hopeful and encouraging messages I get to give to smokers, when they are ready to set that quit date, is to say now that you have tapered down in your smoking less and your body is getting less toxins, when you come to that quit date, in the first twenty-four hours that you do not expose your body to cigarette smoke, your risk of a heart attack drops fifty percent. Over the next few weeks to months it drops even more. Past that first day, your carbon monoxide levels drop to levels that are of a non-smoker's. Your ability to exercise, the oxygen delivery to your muscles, sometimes your chronic pain syndromes improve, your likelihood of developing cancer begins to diminish at that point. In fact, lung cancer - the most serious and common cancer that a cigarette smoker is exposed to - continuously diminishes over years. It does take ten or fifteen years to get to the point where you are at a pre-smoking level because cigarette smoking risks for cancer take years to detect, so you can't be off that hook for cancer immediately. But with heart disease, within two years your likelihood of having a heart attack returns back to nearly a non-smoker's level. So every week, every month, every year that you quit smoking, your health begins to improve in ways that are demonstrable. The toxins come out of your lungs, the mucus production, the inflammation begins to resolve within just weeks. I would encourage you to not just look way down the road of all the negative consequences - you'll avoid in death. I would encourage you to focus on all the positive consequences you will get now, because the moment that you stop, your body starts to heal itself. It has been trying to heal itself all along.

What are the immediate health benefits of quitting smoking?

In the first one to two days when you quit smoking, which is when most people find it most challenging to stay quit, you should stay focused on these positive things that are happening. First, as soon as you take that last puff on a cigarette, your carbon monoxide levels start falling, and they'll fall over the next couple of days to a near non-smoking level, which means your oxygen levels increase. You will start to have a drop in your blood pressure, because every cigarette you smoke creates a little peak; so since you aren't having another cigarette, your blood pressure will be able to assume a normal level. In fact, the temperature in your fingers and in your hands start to assume a normal level because they are no longer being constricted any from the effect of nicotine; so your blood vessels are starting to dilate in the first one to two days. For a few lucky people, even a few days into quitting smoking, your sense of smell will return, but often that lasts into the first or second week before you notice that. And because of the chemical effects, the stimulant effects, of nicotine on the heart, the risk of a sudden death because your heart quits beating and you drop dead - the risk of a sudden heart attack - diminishes 50 percent in the first 24 hours and continues to drop as you no longer have those high levels of nicotine, and your body begins eliminating nicotine from your system over the next week. So I would encourage you, if you always get stuck in the first couple of days, to say, "Hey! I don't need to wait a long time to start enjoying those benefits."

What changes in my body can I expect in the first few weeks after I stop smoking?

Well, the positive things that will change is that your carbon monoxide level will drop dramatically in the first three to five days, which means your oxygen level increases. That means you'll be able to breathe easier, you'll be able to exercise longer, and your long-distance endurance will improve. Pain that might have occurred previously, goes away. In addition, people's sense of smell often improves in the second week, as the toxic effect to the nerves in your nose are removed, and so your sense of smell starts to improve. Also, on the positive side, people start to feel better, and start to have more energy. But there's a negative side too; because you're no longer getting tobacco, or smoke, and that means your brain is no longer getting nicotine. So without medications to help you tolerate nicotine withdrawal symptoms, you will notice a change in your brain chemistry, pleasure center, irritability levels can increase, and also hunger can increase. All of the nicotine withdrawal symptoms can start setting in 72 hours to a week after you quit smoking and get worse, and then plateau and then get better.

What causes the changes in my body after I stop smoking?

All of those changes are either a result of the chemical responses in your brain. Your blood vessels are now being able to dial ate, where it was constricted by nicotine before. The lack of the gas particles, particularly carbon monoxide. Your vascular system responding, and your airways starting to recover along with your liver, which now no longer has to detoxify the four thousand chemicals you are pouring into your system every day.

If I quit smoking, will my lung function improve?

The degree to which someone sees improvement in their breathing after they have quit smoking depends on how much damage they have done to begin with. If you have not smoked long enough to notice decline in your exercise tolerance, your shortness of breath, your cough, then you probably won't notice anything different when you quit smoking. Your lungs will eventually just clean itself out and you will be optimally well and no longer have any deterioration. If you have already begun to notice changes in the way you breathe, a cough often gets better in weeks. With shortness of breath with moderate or maximal exercise, you'll notice that will improve within days, maybe 5 to 10 days after quitting smoking. If you have advanced lung disease, it may take 3 to 6 months of remodelling, cleaning and renovation for all the cells in your lungs to really see how much improvement your going to have. In fact, some lung specialists say give it a year to a year and a half before you give up. Changes are going to occur because your lungs can continue to improve and clean out and calm down that inflammation in the airways over that whole period of time. The progression of tobacco incited disease over the lungs stops the day you quit smoking. Your ability to regain and improve your lung condition just depends on how severe it was when you quit.

If I quit smoking, how long will it take for my smoker's cough to disappear?

When someone has smoked long enough to irritate and inflame their airways due to cigarette smoke, the cough can have several reasons. One can just be the redness and irritation in the airways. That will improve within just weeks to months of quitting smoking. The length of time that it takes someone with a more severe cough to improve really depends on, are they having anything else in their environment that might be making it worse? So I would encourage someone who is concerned about a smokers cough to say: Is it from asthma? Is it from allergies? It may not just go away because of your cigarette smoking, there may be another cause.

Why should I stop smoking if I already have heart disease?

Heart disease has a variety of diagnoses. One that's most common is coronary disease, meaning that not enough blood supply gets to the heart muscle. Why should you quit smoking if you're having trouble with the little arteries supplying enough oxygen and blood to your heart muscle? It's because smoking robs your body of oxygen. Your carbon monoxide levels that are high adhere many times more tightly to your haemoglobin than oxygen does. If you want to prevent a second heart attack, maybe the lethal heart attack, you want to give your heart enough oxygen and blood supply. Nicotine is a vaso constrictor, so it clamps down on the arteries so that there's not enough blood flowing to the muscles in the heart with every cigarette, and in between cigarettes those little blood vessels try and open up again. We know that second-hand smoke increases the risk of a heart attack and direct cigarette smoking, at the time of smoking, releases chemicals in the heart that put you at risk for an irregular heartbeat death and a lack of oxygen and lack of blood flow death. I would encourage someone with heart disease to talk to their cardiologist, their heart specialist, their primary care doctor, and say, "Is there evidence? I heard that there was evidence that if I quit smoking, the likelihood of having a second heart attack is rapidly diminished, is that true? Yes. The answer is true, but I'm asking you to verify it with your own doctor.

I already have lung cancer, why should I bother quitting?

Lung cancer is the most common cancer that a smoker will encounter in their life time, and certain types - the most common type of lung cancer is directly caused by smoking. If you have cancer and you're working with Oncologist, a cancer specialist, to try and beat this cancer, either with radiation therapy, chemo therapy or surgery, I would encourage you to ask their opinion about whether quitting smoking would not increase your risk of 1) Surviving surgery - which we know it does. 2) Having Better effective chemo therapy. 3) Having less complications from radiation, if you're going to have that treatment. 4) In addition, continuing to have exposure to new carcinogens means that even though you may live to survive this treatment and not have this lethal cancer, that does not mean you may not be exposed to a second cancer later on. So, I would really encourage you to give yourself the best chance you can to beat this cancer, to quit smoking and get professional help to do so. It does not have to be that painful to quit smoking.

At what age do I need to quit if I want to avoid getting sick later in life?

Anytime someone's ready to quit smoking, I'm ready to help them. If they're fifteen, I'm ready to help them, because if you quit smoking as a teenager before you really get addicted to tobacco, you've saved yourself an immense amount of problems. If you've smoked long enough to realize that you're addicted and then you quit, at least you will put to rest the addiction pathway in your brain and not have to keep fighting that later in life. If you progress through your twenties continuing to smoke into your thirties, by the time someone hits their late twenties and their thirties, the risks of having a tobacco related disease start astronomically increasing. My best advice is whatever age you are, quit. If you're under twenty, quit now and avoid a whole lifetime of consequences that are totally preventable. But if you're pushing thirty, thirty is one of the magic marker lines. Once you cross thirty and you're still smoking, you're just waiting. You're going to pay a price, it just depends on how long you want to keep playing that game of Russian roulette. Which cigarette is it that's going to flip the switch for cancer, that's going to put you at risk for critical coronary disease, or that's going to start remarkably change your air function?

What are the financial benefits of quitting smoking?

I have had many patients tell me they'd be willing to pay any price to be able to smoke, even if it means the increasing cost of retail cigarettes. They say, "man, when I started to smoke cigarettes were 25 cents or 50 cents a pack, and now they're pushing $4.00 and up." You do the math. One pack a day, two packs a day, 3 to 4 dollars a day, 8 to 10 dollars a day, for 365 days, for however many years you think you'll smoke before you quit. What if you put that money into compounded interest or in the stock market for 10 years, or 20 years, instead of burning it up into smoke and watching it dissipate into the atmosphere, and destroy your lungs in the mean time, and the rest of your body. How much would that be? We estimate that if someone would quit smoking before they're 30, and then invest all the money they would have spent on cigarettes from this point on, they would actually have nearly a half a million dollars that they could invest in their retirement or their children.