Skip to main content

Stopping Smoking

If you smoke, quitting is the single most important step you can take to protect your health.

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug that is inhaled when you smoke. It is often a struggle to break free from nicotine addiction but fortunately there are a number of treatments available to help.

When you stop smoking:

  • After 20 minutes - Pulse rate returns to normal.
  • After 8 hours - Nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in blood reduce by more than half and oxygen levels return to normal.
  • After 48 hours - Carbon monoxide will be eliminated from the body. Lungs start to clear out mucus and other smoking debris.
  • After 48 hours - There is no nicotine in the body. Ability to taste and smell is improved as your mouth and nose recover from being dulled by the hundreds of toxic chemicals found in cigarettes.
  • After 72 hours - Breathing becomes easier. Bronchial tubes begin to relax and energy levels increase.
  • After 2-12 weeks - Your circulation improves. This makes all physical activity, including walking and running, much easier. You'll also give a boost to your immune system, making it easier to fight off colds and flu. The increase in oxygen in the body can also reduce tiredness and the likelihood of headaches.
  • After 3-9 months - Coughs, wheezing and breathing problems improve as lung function increases by up to 10%. In later years, having maximum lung capacity can mean the difference between having an active, healthy old age and wheezing when you go for a walk or climb the stairs.
  • After 1 year - Risk of heart disease is about half compared with a person who is still smoking.
  • After 10 years - Risk of lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker.
  • After 15 years - Risk of heart attack falls to the same as someone who has never smoked.


The withdrawal from nicotine between cigarettes can heighten feelings of stress. As the stress of withdrawal feels the same as other stresses, it's easy to confuse normal stress with nicotine withdrawal, so it can seem like smoking is reducing other stresses. But this is not the case. In fact, scientific studies show people's stress levels are lower after they stop smoking. If you find that you're prone to stress, replacing smoking with a healthier, better way of dealing with stress can give you some real benefits.


Stopping smoking improves the body's blood flow, so improves sensitivity. Men who stop smoking may get better erections. Women may find their orgasms improve and they become aroused more easily. Non-smokers find it easier to get pregnant. Quitting smoking improves the lining of the womb and can make men's sperm more potent. Becoming a non-smoker increases the possibility of conceiving through IVF and reduces the likelihood of having a miscarriage. Most importantly, it improves the chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.


Stopping smoking has been found to slow facial ageing and delay the appearance of wrinkles. The skin of a non-smoker gets more nutrients, including oxygen, and stopping smoking can reverse the sallow, lined complexion smokers often have. Giving up tobacco stops teeth becoming stained, and you'll have fresher breath. Ex-smokers are also less likely than smokers to get gum disease and prematurely lose their teeth.


There aren’t just risks for smokers, there are risks of exposure to second-hand smoke. Those risks include:

  • Increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease in non-smokers
  • Reduced lung function in people with asthma and those with chronic chest problems
  • Increased risk of lower respiratory infections and middle ear disease in children
  • Double the risk of bacterial meningitis in children
  • Double the risk of cot death for babies who live with smokers

As 80-85% of smoke is INVISIBLE, what you see is only a very small percentage of the second-hand smoke that is produced when a cigarette is smoked. You need to remember that there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. If you’re exposing others to second-hand smoke, not only will stopping smoking improve your own health but the health of your loved ones too.


Half of all long-term smokers die early from smoking-related diseases, including heart disease, lung cancer and chronic bronchitis. Men who quit smoking by the age of 30 add 10 years to their life. People who kick the habit at 60 add 3 years to their life. In other words, it's never too late to benefit from stopping. Being smoke-free not only adds years to your life, but also greatly improves your chances of a disease-free, mobile, happy old age.

Coping with the Cravings

If you can control your cravings for a cigarette, you'll significantly boost your chances of quitting. The most effective way to tackle cravings is a combination of stop smoking medicines and behavioural changes. Going cold turkey may be appealing and works for some, but research suggests that willpower alone isn't the best method to stop smoking.

Using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and other stop smoking medicines can double your chances of quitting successfully compared with willpower alone. 

Cravings happen because your body misses its regular hits of nicotine. There are 2 types of craving.

  • The steady and constant background craving for a cigarette that decreases in intensity over several weeks after quitting.
  • Sudden bursts of an intense desire or urge to smoke are often triggered by a cue, such as having a few drinks, feeling very happy or sad, having an argument, feeling stressed, or even having a cup of coffee.

These urges to smoke become less frequent over time but their intensity can remain strong even after many months of quitting. There are 3 tried and tested ways to tame cravings:

  1. Nicotine replacement therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) gives your body the nicotine it craves without the toxic chemicals that you get in cigarettes, so it doesn't cause cancer. It helps you to stop smoking with fewer unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. NRT won't give you the same "hit" or relief you would expect from a cigarette, but it does help reduce cravings.

NRT is available as gum, patches, lozenges, microtabs, inhalator, nasal spray, mouth spray and oral strips. Some products, like the patch, release nicotine into your system slowly and steadily, so they're ideal for relieving background cravings. Others, such as the nasal spray and mouth spray, release nicotine quickly in short bursts, so they're better suited to sudden intense cravings.

A good strategy is to use the nicotine patch to manage the steady and constant background cravings and carry a fast-working product with you to deal with the sudden intense cravings.

Discuss the NRT products available over the counter with your pharmacist or talk to your local NHS stop smoking adviser or GP.

  1. Stop smoking medicines

The prescription tablet Champix (Varenicline) is not currently available.  It has been withdrawn as a precaution because of an impurity found in the medicine. The prescription tablets Champix (varenicline) and Zyban (bupropion) are an alternative to NRT in helping you stop smoking. They don't contain nicotine but work on your brain to dampen cravings and can be very effective. As they take a few days to work fully, you need to start these medicines for a week or two before you stop smoking. Ask your doctor or a local stop smoking adviser whether prescription medicines may help you.

  1. Change your behaviour

NRT and stop smoking medicines can help curb cravings, but they can't completely eradicate them. There are some additional things that can help including:

  • Avoiding triggers - For you, some events or times of the day may have a strong association with smoking: after food, with a coffee, after putting the kids to bed, when chatting to a friend, or having an alcoholic drink. Try doing something different at these times. You don't have to make this change forever, just until you have broken the association with smoking.
  • Staying strong - Expect your cravings to be at their worst in the first few weeks after quitting. The good news is that they'll pass, and the quickest way to achieve this is to commit to the "not a single drag" rule. When you're ready to stop for good, promise yourself "I won't even have a single drag on a cigarette". If you feel like smoking, remember "not a single drag" to help the feeling pass.
  • Exercising - Physical activity may help reduce your nicotine cravings and relieve some withdrawal symptoms. It may also help you to reduce stress and keep your weight down. When you have the urge to smoke, do something active instead.
  • Being prepared - Expect cravings at special events like holidays, funerals or weddings. You may never have experienced these events as a non-smoker before, so you'll associate them strongly with smoking. Have some fast-acting NRT with you just in case. When an urge to smoke strikes, remember that although it may be intense, it'll be short lived and will probably pass within a few minutes. Each time you resist a craving, you're 1 step closer to stopping smoking for good.