Life and good health after quitting smoking
So, you've quit smoking – what now?
You’ve thrown away your cigarette packet and spent the last few days or weeks smoke-free. Congratulations, you’ve already started on the road to a healthier smoke-free life! The challenge now is to stay motivated and not to fall off the path to quitting permanently.1 It’s worth the challenge: You’ll enjoy life more and have better health when you quit permanently.2
After quitting smoking you’ll probably feel like a cigarette from time to time (or perhaps a lot of the time) in the early days. Most people still have the odd craving 6 months after they quit, and many people fail to resist the cravings and take up smoking again.1 It’s important to consciously strategise to ensure you’ll have the will power to say ‘no’ if cigarette cravings rear their ugly heads from time to time.3
Think about the long-term and how you’ll make the most of the money you’re saving on cigarettes and the improved health which comes from a smoke-free lifestyle. The benefits are substantial, so it’s well worth spending a bit of time working out the ways you can increase your chances of quitting permanently.2
Ways to increase your chance of quitting
Don’t mention the war (on smoking)
If you’ve been smoking for years there are probably plenty of things to remind you that you were once a smoker. You’ll find them lying around your house, your car and other places you go. Nicotine addiction is both physical and psychological. Long after the physical cravings for nicotine have subsided, your mind may still be telling you that you want to smoke. So changing your environment and getting rid of smoking ‘cues’ can help you to quit.1
Ask yourself what places or activities you immediately associate with having a cigarette. If you tend to smoke while you’re drinking coffee, when you’re stressed or when you’re with certain people, these situations will serve as reminders of your old life as a smoker and provide temptation.1
Find alternatives to replace your old smoking habits. Why not try juice instead of alcohol or take a walk at the time you used to sit down for a cup of coffee and a cigarette? If you smoke when you’re bored, chomp on a piece of fruit or some sugar-free gum instead of lighting up. If stress is your cue to smoke, what about a relaxing bath or a bit of exercise? These are all healthy substitutes for smoking.2
Remember, a slip is not a fail
If you do give in to temptation once, or even several times, remember that a slip is not a fail. Having a single cigarette in a moment of stress or after a few beers at the pub does not mean you have to take the habit up full time again. Instead of focusing on the cigarette you couldn’t resist, focus on all the cigarettes you did say ‘no’ to since you quit.3
Focusing on your quitting successes rather than your quitting failures will help boost your self-esteem and motivation, which is incredibly important if you’re serious about quitting.1,3 There are plenty of places you can get support when you attempt to quit: From quit-aids like nicotine replacement therapy to the free telephone counselling Quitline service, or your best friend. But all the support in the world won’t help you quit if you don’t adopt a positive, ‘can-do’ attitude and get motivated. Unless you tell yourself you can quit, you probably won’t be able to.1
What better way to motivate yourself than to think about all the health and lifestyle benefits that come with not smoking? Knowing how dangerous smoking is – and believing what you read instead of thinking it’s exaggerated or doesn’t apply to you – will help you to quit.1
So you know (and truly believe) that smoking is bad for health, but did you know how quickly your health improves once you quit smoking?2 Every day without a cigarette is a day of improved health.3
Collectively, the health problems associated with smoking cause smoking men to die an average of 13 years earlier than their non-smoking counterparts and smoking women to die an average of 14.5 years earlier. But no matter what your age or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can improve your health and help you to live a longer and better quality life.2
Quitting smoking is the only way to stop the damage that tobacco smoke does to your body. The good news is that quitting smoking can also reverse some of the damage that’s been done, meaning that in the years after you quit, your health will improve and become closer to that of a person who has never smoked. Health improvements begin almost as soon as you stop smoking and increase as the length of time you have been smoke-free increases.2
Short-term benefits of quitting
In the weeks and months after quitting, your health will begin to improve significantly and noticeably. Within 3 months (and for some ex-smokers after only a couple of weeks) the circulation of blood through your body returns to normal and your lungs start to function more efficiently. Within 9 months (and often as quickly as 1 month after quitting) your smoker’s cough will be gone and the tiny hairs called cilia which remove mucus from your lungs will be functioning efficiently again. You’ll be breathing easier without all that smoke clogging up your lungs and be less likely to get infections like the flu.2
Major benefits of smoking come in the long term
The major benefits of giving up smoking come years after you quit when your risk of smoking-associated diseases starts to drop and in some cases reduces to the same risk as a person who has never smoked. 1 year after you throw out your smokes your risk of coronary heart disease will be 50% less than if you had continued smoking, and after 15 years you’ll be no more likely than someone who has never smoked to have coronary heart disease. Men will be less likely to experience erectile dysfunction.2
After 5 years your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and bladder will have reduced by half, and, if you’re a woman, you’ll be no more likely than a non-smoker to get cervical cancer. After 15 years your risk of lung cancer will have halved. The risk of stroke also reduces dramatically and 2–5 years after quitting you’ll be no more likely than a non-smoker to experience stroke.2
For more information, see Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking Tool.
Clearly there are lots of health benefits which will come to those who resist the temptation to take smoking back up. But there are also plenty of lifestyle improvements which will come with quitting. It’s not only that you’ll be able to spend the money you used to waste on cigarettes on things you and your family will enjoy, you’ll also be able to use your healthier body and lungs to get active outdoors in ways you couldn’t imagine when you were smoking.2
Other immediate benefits of quitting includes feeling better about yourself, for example because:2
- Your breath starts smelling fresher;
- There are no new nicotine stains on your fingers and teeth. The appearance of old stains will also start to fade;
- There are no more nicotine smells in your hair or clothes;
- Your food will start to taste better;
- Your sense of smell will return to normal;
- Physical activity becomes easier and activities like climbing stairs and doing physical work are less likely to leave you out of breath.
Don’t be surprised if you start to feel more confident in your smoke-free body, even before you start to notice the major health benefits of quitting!
One reason why you might feel more confident as a non-smoker is because you’ll no longer be getting dirty looks from the people who have to breath in your second hand smoke. More and more, smoking is socially unacceptable, and for good reason. Second hand tobacco smoke or passive smoking is responsible for thousands of early deaths each year and also for increased rates of diseases such as childhood asthma and infections.2
Whether you’re at work, socialising with friends or at the pub, you’ll be better able to enjoy smoke-free public spaces. And let’s face it, everywhere from your workplace to the local pub are smoke-free these days. And if you’re looking for love, your prospects of finding a romantic partner are also likely to increase. More than 80% of the population are non-smokers, and it’s likely they’ll taste the difference when they kiss the non-smoking you.2
Exercise will be easier because your lung function increases after you quit smoking.2 It’s not surprising when you think about all the nasty smoke that used to be clogging up your lungs. Finding fun ways to exercise is a great way to make the most of your newly improved health, but it can also help you break your old smoking habits. Instead of picking up a cigarette, pick up a ball and spend 10 minutes playing with the kids or the dog, or take a walk around the neighbourhood.1
Spend the money you save on things you enjoy
One of the immediate benefits of quitting is saving money. Cigarettes are expensive and the amount a smoker spends feeding their nicotine habit each year is substantial. Working out how much smoking used to cost you and planning other fun ways to spend the money you save can be a great motivator.2
|How much of your savings has been spent on cigarettes since you started smoking? It's an expensive habit; find out how much it's costing you. |
Use the Smoking Cost Calculator.
The initial days and months after quitting are often the hardest because physical nicotine cravings are most intense.1 In these times you may want to reward yourself on a regular basis.2 If you put aside all the money you would have spent on cigarettes you can reward yourself at the end of each week2 with:
- New books or music, which you can read or listen to, can help you to de-stress as you overcome the challenges of quitting;2
- A gym membership or dance lessons may be an especially good treat if you’re worried about weight gain;2
- A day out with the family; or
- Anything else that takes your fancy.
Just a week after quitting you’ll have saved enough to buy yourself a little treat, or, if you were a heavy smoker, quite a big treat! 4
In the long-term the money you’ll save on cigarettes will allow you to fund things you never dreamed you could afford while you were smoking. A person who smokes a pack of cigarettes costing $20 each day spends over $7,000 on cigarettes every year.4 That’s probably enough for your dream holiday, the new computer or sound system you haven’t been able to afford or even a car upgrade. Every year after you quit you’ll be saving thousands of dollars4 which you can spend doing things you love and appreciate far more than sucking dirty cigarette smoke into your lungs.
Been dreaming of climbing the Himalayas or having an awesome outdoor adventure in Africa? Not only will you be saving money on cigarettes that you can use to get there, when you quit smoking you’ll also be improving your lung function and making exercise easier.2 This means that you will be more likely to make it to the top (if the summit of the Himalayas or Machu Picchu is your ideal destination) and you’ll be more likely to enjoy yourself along the way.
There is a better life after smoking
When you’re facing the initial challenges of quitting smoking and your physical and psychological cravings are intense, it can be easy to think it’s all too hard. Keeping your mind on your smoke-free future and the health and lifestyle benefits which will come with quitting permanently is an important motivator. Cravings go away and there is a better life after smoking for those who persist and quit for good. Not only will you live longer, you can also lead a more active and enjoyable lifestyle. You’ll feel better about yourself, your physical health will improve and you’ll have loads of extra money to spend on more important things in life. The benefits of quitting smoking are simply overwhelming and hopefully the dangling carrot representing how your life will change for the better will be enough motivation to get you through the cravings and quit for good. Good luck!
- Ellerman A, Ford C, Stillman S. Smoking cessation: 7.7: Personal factors associated with quitting. In: Scollo M, Winstanley M (eds). Tobacco in Australia: Facts and Issues (3rd edition) [online]. Carlton, VIC: Cancer Council Victoria; 2008 [cited 15 May 2012]. Available from: [URL Link]
- American Cancer Society. Guide to quitting smoking 2012. [cited 24 August 2012]. Available from: [URL Link]
- Quit Victoria. Giving it another go- warning signs and setbacks. 2012. [cited 1 May 2012]. Available from: [URL Link]
- Smoking cessation guidelines for Australian general practice [online]. Canberra, ACT: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing; 2004 [cited 11 January 2011]. Available from: [URL link]
Article Date: 17/9/2012
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