The Benefits of Quitting Smoking

Author: Carolyn Vachani, MSN, RN
Content Contributor: Allyson Distel, MPH
Last Reviewed: February 28, 2024

Why quit smoking?

Tobacco use leads to 8 million deaths each year, including 1.3 million deaths from secondhand smoke. Nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. are due to tobacco use. Smokers on average die about 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

A person's risk of cancer increases with the time that they smoke (number of years) and the amount that they smoke (number of cigarettes per day). Quitting is beneficial at ANY time - no matter how long you have smoked. Quitting lets your body start to heal from the damage of smoking. The risk of cancer becomes less as the number of years you have been smoke-free increases. Quitting also lessens your risk of other smoking-related health problems, compared to people who continue smoking.

Is there any benefit to quitting if I already have cancer?

Yes! Quitting reduces the risk of a second cancer. Quitting helps your body heal better after surgery and other cancer treatments. Quitting can help reduce symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath. Studies have found that people who quit soon after a lung cancer diagnosis respond better to treatment. These are all good reasons to quit after a cancer diagnosis, but it is not easy. Talk to your care team about getting help to quit.

What happens when you quit?

Within minutes of smoking the last cigarette, the body starts to restore itself. Just look at these facts from the American Cancer Society:

  • 20 minutes after quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure drop to a more normal level.
  • A few days after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Your circulation improves, meaning your blood is pumped better and your lungs work better.
  • 1 to 12 months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Lung function improves increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.
  • 1 to 2 years after quitting: Your risk of heart attack drops.
  • 5 to 10 years after quitting: Your risk of mouth, throat, and laryngeal cancer is cut in half and your stroke risk decreases.
  • 10 years after quitting: Compared to a person who still smokes, your risk of lung cancer is about half. Your risk of bladder, esophageal, and kidney cancer decreases.
  • 15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is close to that of a non-smoker.

What are some more benefits to quitting?

  • Better-smelling breath, hair, and clothes.
  • Sense of smell and taste may improve.
  • You may have less shortness of breath.

Your family and friends will be proud of your achievement. You will be saving lots of money; set aside what you would usually spend and do something nice for yourself with the money!

What makes a person decide to quit?

Learning about the negative effects of smoking can motivate people to quit. Many people who receive a cancer diagnosis see that as the time to quit. For some, the diagnosis of cancer in a close friend or family member can be the reason to quit. Whatever the motivation, quitting can be hard. Use the links below to learn more about the importance of quitting, planning a quit date, and finding the support needed to be successful. Keep in mind, that most people attempt to quit many times before being successful.

Life After Tobacco

Quitting tobacco cannot get rid of the damage done by smoking. You should always tell healthcare providers about your smoking history and be aware of the risks associated with this history. You may benefit from lung cancer screening, depending on how much you smoked and for how long.

If you have any of the following symptoms you should contact your provider. They could be symptoms of an illness related to a history of smoking:

  • Any change in a cough (for example, you cough up more phlegm or mucus than usual).
  • A new cough.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Wheezing.
  • Chest pain.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Feeling tired all the time (fatigue).
  • Frequent lung or respiratory infections (like pneumonia or bronchitis).
  • New sores or white patches in your mouth.

Quitting smoking can help improve your health. Talk to your provider to learn ways to help you get started.

Resources for quitting:

Quit Smoking: The Basics

Smoking Cessation: Where do I start?

Smoking Cessation Aids

Lung Cancer Screening

American Cancer Society (2020). Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023). Smoking & Tobacco Use.

World Health Organization (2023). Tobacco.

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