People have been smoking tobacco recreationally since it was introduced to Europe in the late 15th century, but it wasn't until the early 20th century that we began to see the long-term health effects smoking had. Today smoking is considered to be the greatest single cause of premature death in the UK.
We now have an abundance of research and science telling us just how bad smoking is for our health and yet for many, it is an incredibly hard habit to break. People often start smoking out of curiosity, peer pressure or simply out of boredom and before long, an addiction is formed.
Quitting this kind of physical and mental addiction often takes more than will power alone to accomplish. Researching the effects of smoking, learning what you'll gain from quitting and discovering all the different ways you can quit is an important first step to breaking the habit.
On this page
The anatomy of a cigarette
First of all, it is important to understand what is in a cigarette and what effects these substances can have. On the surface, tobacco wrapped in paper may look harmless, but it's the smoke released when the cigarette is burned that causes the real problem. A whole cocktail of chemicals is added to cigarettes designed to make them taste nicer and get you hooked. Once you understand exactly what it is you are breathing in every time you light up, the choice to quit should be easier.
This is the drug that causes addiction in smokers. Nicotine stimulates the brain so that when you withdraw from it you experience intense cravings, headaches and increased anxiety.
Tar is the residue that deposits into your system after smoking tobacco. Containing over 4000 chemicals, tar also contains over 50 cancer causing carcinogens, which is why smoking is considered one of the biggest causes of the disease.
This gas affects the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, meaning your body won't get the oxygen it needs while you're smoking. This can lead to shortness of breath, low energy levels and poor circulation.
Smoking facts and figures
Now you know what is in your cigarette, here are some facts about what they can do to you:
- About 100,000 people die every year in the UK from smoking-related illnesses.
- Roughly half of all smokers die prematurely due to smoking-related diseases.
- The life expectancy of a smoker is about 10 years less than that of a non-smoker.
- Most smoking-related deaths are long and painful, with many unpleasant symptoms.
- Around 17,000 children under the age of five are admitted to hospital every year because of passive smoking-related illnesses.
Smoking related conditions
Smoking increases your risk of developing a wide range of health ailments and diseases including the following:
- Lung cancer - More than eight in 10 cases of lung cancer are directly related to smoking.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - Again, eight out of 10 cases of this distressing lung disease are caused by smoking.
- Heart disease - Considered the UK's biggest killer, around one in six cases is caused by smoking.
- Other cancers - Including mouth, throat, nose, blood, cervix and pancreatic cancer.
- Infertility - Smoking affects the fertility of men and women, making it harder to conceive.
- Gum disease - On top of staining your teeth, smoking can cause premature tooth loss due to gum disease.
The benefits of quitting
While all of the above information may make for a scary read, it is important to know that it is never too late to quit. The sooner you stop smoking, the faster your body will recover and your risk of developing life-threatening conditions will decrease.
Longer life expectancy
If you quit smoking by the age of 30, you could increase your life expectancy by 10 years - just think what you could do with that extra decade. Even if you are in your 60s when you decide to quit, you can still add three years onto your life. Not only will you have a longer life if you stop smoking, you should also have fewer health problems, making for a happier, more independent later life.
Carbon monoxide robs your body of oxygen, and without oxygen your body can't work properly. When you quit smoking you will be lowering the carbon monoxide levels in your body allowing your lungs and muscles to work the way they should. More oxygen to the brain will also help you to feel more alert, energised and awake. You should also find you can sleep better without that nicotine in your system.
Boosted immune system
When you smoke, your immune system is lowered making you more susceptible to colds and flu. When you quit smoking your immune system gets a boost, which means you will pick up less illnesses and generally feel healthier all round.
If you have smoked 20 cigarettes a day for 10 years, you will have spent approximately £20,000 on smoking. Every time a craving hits - think about what you could do with that extra money!
Within nine months of quitting smoking, your lung capacity should increase by as much as 10% helping you to do simple things like climb stairs without gasping for breath. You will also get rid of that smoker’s cough, and any breathing difficulties or conditions you have (such as asthma) should be dramatically reduced.
Reduced stress levels
Many smokers reach for a cigarette when they are feeling stressed and while that immediate hit of nicotine after withdrawal may make you feel relaxed at first, in the long term, smoking only increases stress levels. Studies have shown that ex-smokers are less stressed than they were when they were smoking.
Younger looking skin
Smoking prematurely ages the skin, making it dull, dry and prone to wrinkles. When you stop smoking, this effect is reversed as your skin receives the nutrients it needs. This means that in time, you should find your complexion brightens up and any lines you have may appear reduced.
Better sense of smell and taste
The chemicals in cigarettes dull taste buds and affect the way you smell, making food and drink a bit of a bore. Quitting will bring these senses to life again, helping you taste and smell things at a greater intensity.
Protected loved ones
Passive smoking can be as fatal as smoking a cigarette directly, by not smoking around your friends and family you will be reducing their risk of developing smoking related illnesses.
Quit smoking timeline
|Amount of time since your last cigarette:||Effects on your body:|
|20 minutes||Your blood pressure and heart rate will return to normal.|
|12 hours||Carbon monoxide levels will drop back to normal.|
|24 hours||Your body will start to clear out the mucus built up in your lungs.|
|72 hours||Breathing will become easier and your energy levels will increase.|
|1 month||The appearance of your skin will start to improve.|
|3-9 months||Your lung function could improve by up to 10%.|
|1 year||Risk of suffering from a heart attack falls to about half of that of a smoker.|
|10 years||Risk of developing lung cancer falls to about half of that of a smoker.|
|15 years||Risk of suffering a heart attack falls to that of a non-smoker.|
How to quit smoking
Whether you consider yourself a social smoker or a heavy smoker, the thought of quitting can be daunting. While it certainly can be tough, it is the absolute best thing you can do for your health. There are plenty of resources available to help you get started and, with a vast range of support groups available (both online and offline), you will never have to feel alone.
Common fears when quitting
When you have made the decision to stop smoking it is completely natural to have some initial fears. Some of the most common fears include:
- Gaining weight - Nicotine is an appetite suppressant so it is possible that when you quit smoking, your appetite will increase. This does not happen for everyone, but just in case it is worth preparing for. Stock your fridge with healthy snacks and try to increase your physical activity levels. Remember, even if you do gain weight, it can be lost again.
- Not having a social tool - For some people, smoking is considered a social tool that brings you and your friends/family/colleagues together. The truth is that since the indoor smoking ban was introduced in 2007, going outside to smoke can be an isolating experience. Enjoy the fact you can now stay inside and encourage your smoking friends and family to join you and quit together.
- Feeling it's not the right time - This is a common excuse, but sadly there is unlikely to ever be a 'good' time to quit. Life will always have its ups and downs, the trick is to deal with them without resorting to smoking. The longer you put off quitting, the more damage you'll be doing to your body.
Before you try to quit smoking it often helps to have a solid reason or goal in mind; you may want to quit because you are trying to have a baby or because you've promised your other half you'll quit, it may simply be because you want to be healthier. Whatever the reason, try writing it down and pin it up somewhere you can see it every day.
Once you have made the commitment to quit smoking, it's time to find some support. Seeing your GP is a great first step, they can talk you through the various treatments including nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), support groups and tips to change your behaviour.
Hypnotherapy to quit smoking
A big part of quitting smoking is letting go of the smoking routine you once had and looking at cigarettes differently. Hypnotherapy is fast becoming one of the most popular forms of treatment to help do this.
If you are considering hypnotherapy to quit smoking the first step is to make sure you are choosing to quit for yourself. Hypnotherapy is most effective when you really want to quit - if you are doing it because you think you 'should' or because a friend or family member is pushing you, you may not get the results you want.
Hypnotherapy works by putting you in a deep, relaxed state where your mind is more open to suggestion. At this point your hypnotherapist will look to change your thought patterns by making suggestions such as 'I do not want a cigarette' or 'I am repelled by the smell of cigarette smoke'. For many people, just one session is enough to quit smoking however some may benefit from a follow-up session.
Some people find hypnotherapy alone is enough to break the habit, while others prefer to combine it with NRT or medication to tackle both the physical and mental addiction together. By exploring all the avenues you should find a suitable treatment that will help you quit smoking for good.
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