Stop smoking

Cigarette smoke is made up of approximately 4,000 different substances. 40 of these substances can cause cancer. This is what we call carcinogenic.
One substance – nicotine – is incredibly addictive. Nicotine creates a sense of pleasure in the brain, which in turn makes you want more nicotine. Your body also becomes accustomed to a certain amount of nicotine in the blood and it is the speed with which your body breaks down nicotine that makes you need another dose. These two processes are what make the smoker dependent on cigarettes and become addicted to smoking.


Smoking is an addiction caused by nicotine. You breathe nicotine into your lungs and it travels to your brain via your bloodstream. This happens really quickly. Nicotine reaches your brain within 10 seconds of you inhaling it. Once there, the nicotine generates an enjoyable feeling but once a cigarette is finished, the effect of the nicotine wears off very quickly. So you find yourself craving another cigarette. How long does the feeling last? That depends on how many cigarettes you smoke on average per day. It also makes a difference how you distribute your cigarettes throughout the day. It becomes a habit when doing certain things you do every day; then you start to crave a cigarette at the same time; you start finding it hard to do these things without having a cigarette; smoking has become an integral part of your life. That is all part of the addiction.

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Poisonous substances

There are three well-known substances in smoke. They are nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar.

  • Nicotine makes the heart beat faster, causes higher blood pressure and damages the insides of blood vessels as well as narrowing them. Nicotine is addictive and reaches your brain incredibly quickly – within 10 seconds of inhalation. Nicotine is what makes you want to keep on smoking.
  • Carbon monoxide causes general illness and it takes the place of oxygen in your blood. So when you smoke, your blood carries less oxygen around your body. This makes you tire faster when you exercise or even just walk up the stairs.
  • Tar causes smokers' cough. There are fine vibrating cilia in your lungs. These cilia keep them clean. When you smoke, these cilia become clogged up, and they become less and less effective. So you need to cough more and more often to get unwanted particles out of your lungs.

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Heart and cardiovascular diseases

When someone smokes, the first place the smoke reaches is the lungs. Here all kinds of substances transfer from the smoke into the blood, including nicotine and carbon monoxide. These two substances have a particularly severe effect on the heart and cardiovascular system. Every year, around 5,000 people die from heart and cardiovascular diseases they have developed as a result of smoking. There are different kinds of heart and cardiovascular diseases:

  • High blood pressure

    Nicotine causes your blood vessels to become narrower and also increases blood pressure. Smoking when you have high blood pressure is even more detrimental to your blood vessels. Medicines taken to reduce high blood pressure are less effective if you smoke.

  • Changes in the blood vessels

    Nicotine damages the internal walls of your blood vessels. They become raw and the body reacts to this the same way it reacts to cuts and scrapes: it makes scabs. Slowly, the blood vessel becomes clogged; the blood is no longer able to pass through freely. This is what's known as atherosclerosis.

  • Chest pain

    The heart is a muscle and a muscle needs oxygen to work properly. If the amount of oxygen reaching your heart decreases then you start getting chest pain. This pain becomes worse with smoking. Nicotine makes your heart beat faster. Carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood.

  • Heart attack

    During a heart attack, the heart is no longer receiving any oxygen. This is because the blood vessels which carry blood to the heart are clogged. Smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to have a heart attack.

  • Stroke

    Smokers suffer from strokes more often than non-smokers. This is because of higher blood pressure and a narrowing of the blood vessels. There are two kinds of stroke: brain hemorrhage and cerebral infarction. A brain hemorrhage happens when a blood vessel in the brain becomes ruptured. In a cerebral infarction, a blood clot closes a blood vessel in the brain.

  • Intermittent claudication

    People with intermittent claudication get pain when they walk even for a very short distance. They then need to stand still and wait for the pain to go. Pain in the legs is caused by the changes to the blood vessels. People who smoke are more often affected by changes to their blood vessels.

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What does stopping do to your body?

When you stop smoking, you are no longer inhaling cigarette smoke. This is good for you – you are no longer putting carcinogens into your body. Some parts of your body start to improve quickly. Other parts take a bit longer to recover. However you are also denying your body nicotine and you will start to have withdrawal symptoms which can often make you feel irritable. Your body has learned that nicotine gives you an enjoyable feeling which is why you still feel like you want to smoke. This desire is strong in the beginning but becomes less and less as time goes on.
Body in general
Stopping smoking goes hand-in-hand with your body getting better. Some improvements happen really quickly. Others take a little more time. You should start to feel better quickly and in the long term you have less chance of getting ill or dying from a smoking-related illness.

  • 20 minutes after stopping your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal.
  • After eight hours the amount of nicotine and carbon monoxide in your blood is reduced by half. The amount of oxygen in your blood is back to normal.
  • After two days there is no longer any nicotine in your body.
  • Your senses of taste and smell are also markedly improved after two days.
  • And between the second and 12th week your circulation improves.
There are a great many benefits to your heart when you stop smoking. Your heart gets more oxygen-rich blood which it can pump around your body, so your overall condition improves.
  • One day after stopping the chance of suffering a heart attack is reduced, and after one year the likelihood is down by half.
  • Stopping smoking gives you a better chance of recovery if you do have a heart attack.
  • After one year there is a 50% less chance of having another heart attack.
  • There is also a 40% less chance that you will die after one year.
  • 15 years after stopping, you will be in the same heart attack risk category as someone who has never smoked.
Once you have stopped smoking, your lungs can begin their big clean-up. You get more air and can breathe more easily.
  • After just one day there is no longer any carbon monoxide in your body. The oxygen content of your blood improves. This is particularly noticeable in people with COPD. You will find it much easier to exercise yourself than before you stopped smoking.
  • After one day, the lungs start clearing themselves of mucus and other remnants of smoking.
  • After a few more days, breathing becomes easier and you have more energy.
  • Between three and nine months after stopping, complaints such as coughing, wheezing and dyspnea (breathlessness) reduce. The deterioration in your lung function stops and can even improve.
  • After ten years the risk of lung cancer is half of that of those who still smoke.

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Difficulty stopping

Half of those who stop smoking have difficulty doing so. That is a good sign: your body is freeing itself from nicotine. It's true that you won't feel great at the start, but that soon passes. Within two to three days there is no longer any nicotine in your body. It takes a bit longer before you get used to not having a cigarette – about two months. When you stop, you might notice these things happening:

  • You still want to smoke;
  • You get annoyed easily;
  • You are not as focused as usual;
  • You are restless;
  • You don't feel well.
This is what we call withdrawal symptoms.
Almost everyone who stops smoking puts on a bit of weight – some just 5.5 lbs, others 13.2 lbs. Why is that? The stomach and intestines of smokers work more quickly so when you stop smoking, this goes back to normal. Some people gain more than 13.2 lbs. That's because they substitute smoking with something else: eating, sweets mostly.

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Help stopping

To stop smoking is difficult for the majority of smokers. The likelihood of stopping successfully increases dramatically when you have help and support. There is a lot of choice. In the US, your local Health Authority probably runs a variety of stop smoking programs, all of which access free. Find out more in the websites from the Center for Disease Control (visit page ) or from the National Cancer Institute (visit page ).

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