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The Quit Smoking Timeline

Posted in Smoking 02 Mar, 2016

No matter how long you've been smoking, no matter how old you are – it's never too late to quit. Cigarettes do cause permanent damage, but once you quit, some of smoking's long-term effects lessen over time. Quitting when you are younger significantly reduces health risks, but quitting at any age can improve your health in the short and long term.

There are multiple approaches to stopping smoking. If using smoking treatments to help quit, some smokers opt for nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), such as nicotine gum or patches. Others prefer nicotine-free prescription aids such as Champix or Zyban, which effectively reduce both cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Some people choose to reduce their smoking gradually; others may quit cold turkey.

To successfully quit smoking, remember that quitting isn't a one-time process. It must be maintained over a lifetime. It isn't all or nothing. If you slip up, learn from your mistakes, throw out your cigarettes, and start again.

Quitting takes time and effort, but it is worth it. You'll see health benefits from day one. Check out our chart below for a timeline of the effects of quitting, and tips to help you at each step of the way.

Time Health Effects Success Tips
20 minutes Your heart rate and blood pressure begin to drop. Throw away any remaining cigarettes. Emergency cigarettes increase the chances that you'll give in to a craving.

Remind yourself regularly of your reasons for quitting – your health, your family, your future.
2 hours Your heart rate and blood pressure normalise. Peripheral circulation – in your fingers and toes – improves.

Your nicotine withdrawal symptoms begin. These may include anxiety, irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, and intense cigarette cravings.
Choose a low-stress time to quit. It's impossible to be completely stress-free, but quitting in the middle of a major work project or family event will make it even harder.
12 hours Carbon monoxide in your blood decreases, leading to higher blood oxygen levels. Nicotine levels in your blood reduce by half. Find alternatives to satisfy the emotional need smoking fulfils. For example, if you smoke to relieve stress, take a walk outside.

Smoking is also an oral addiction, so have some oral substitutes handy, such as chewing gum.
3 days Your body is free of carbon monoxide and nicotine. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms reach their peak.

Your ability to taste and smell improves as nerve endings begin to repair.
This stage is often the hardest, as withdrawal symptoms intensify.

Start changing your smoking routines. Have a proper breakfast with your morning coffee. Turn your cigarette breaks into water breaks.

Cope with cravings by eating a healthy snack or doing a puzzle to keep your brain occupied.
2 – 3 weeks Your lung function begins to improve, clearing out mucus more effectively. Breathing becomes easier as lung capacity increases.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms should begin to subside.

Surround yourself with family, friends and colleagues who can support you. Staying busy and socially active will help keep your mind off of smoking.
1 month Your circulation begins to improve. With improved skin perfusion, your skin looks healthier.

Your nicotine withdrawal symptoms have faded. If you're still experiencing them, see your doctor.
People, places, or activities that remind you of smoking are triggers that can cause cravings. If you can, temporarily remove these triggers from your life, or create strategies to cope when you encounter them.
2 – 9 months Your lung function improves significantly, reducing coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Your risk of lung infection decreases. Take advantage of your stronger lungs by increasing your physical activity. Exercise will be easier now that you're not struggling to breathe.

At this rate, you may be saving around £160 a month by not buying cigarettes. Put that money towards a goal, like a dream holiday.
1 year Your risk for heart disease halves compared to when you were smoking. You're now in the maintenance phase of quitting. Focus on enjoying your non-smoker status and preventing a relapse.

Remember that even if you feel 100% free from smoking, certain triggers can increase your relapse risk. Be aware of these triggers and have coping strategies in place.
5 years Your heart attack risk is now half that of a smoker. Your stroke risk falls to that of a non-smoker.

Cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and bladder – your risk for these halves. For women, your cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker.
Even after years of not smoking, emotionally intense situations can trigger a craving. Always remember that smoking a cigarette will not actually change or improve these situations. Think about how much you've accomplished in quitting for so long and remind yourself of the benefits.
10 years Your risk of lung cancer death is half that of a smoker. You are also less likely than a smoker to get laryngeal or pancreatic cancer. Be a support to someone quitting smoking. As an ex-smoker, your first-hand experience and success can inspire them.
15 years Your risk of heart disease has returned to the level of a non-smoker. Heart attack, coronary artery disease, and angina – you are no longer at an increased risk for any of these. Encourage your children to never start smoking. Two thirds of adult smokers begin smoking before 18. Young people are particularly vulnerable to social pressure to smoke, and become dependent on nicotine faster than adults.
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