Why Quit? Your Health
Health concerns usually top the list of reasons people give for quitting smoking. About half of all smokers who continue to smoke will end up dying from a smoking-related illness. Nearly everyone knows that smoking can cause lung cancer, but few people realize it is also a risk factor for many other kinds of cancer as well, including cancer of the mouth, voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, cervix, stomach, and some leukemias.
Smoking increases the risk of lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These progressive lung diseases – grouped under the term COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) – are usually diagnosed in current or former smokers in their 60s and 70s. COPD causes chronic illness and disability and is eventually fatal.
Smokers are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as are nonsmokers. And smoking is a major risk factor for peripheral vascular disease, a narrowing of the blood vessels that carry blood to the leg and arm muscles, as well as cerebrovascular disease that can cause strokes.
Smoking also causes premature wrinkling of the skin, bad breath, bad smelling clothes and hair, and yellow fingernails and hair, yellow fingernails and increased risk of macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of blindness in the elderly.
For women, there are unique risks. Women over 35 who smoke and use birth control pills are in a high-risk group for heart attack, stroke, and blood clots of the legs. Women who smoke are more likely to have a miscarriage or a lower birth-weight baby. Low birth-weight babies are more likely to die or to be permanently impaired.
Based on data collected in the late 1990s, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life because of smoking.
No matter what your age or how long you've smoked, quitting will help you live longer. People who stop smoking before age 35 avoid 90% of the health risks attributable to tobacco. Even those who quit later in life can significantly reduce their risk of dying at a younger age.
Ex-smokers also enjoy a higher quality of life with fewer illnesses from cold and flu viruses, better self-reported health status, and reduced rates of bronchitis and pneumonia.
For decades the Surgeon General has reported the health risks associated with smoking. Regardless of your age or smoking history, there are advantages to quitting smoking. Benefits apply whether you are healthy or you already have smoking-related diseases. In 1990, the Surgeon General concluded:
Quitting smoking has major and immediate health benefits for men and women of all ages. Benefits apply to people with and without smoking-related disease.
Former smokers live longer than continuing smokers. For example, people who quit smoking before age 50 have one-half the risk of dying in the next 15 years compared with continuing smokers.
Quitting smoking decreases the risk of lung cancer, other cancers, heart attack, stroke, and chronic lung disease.
Women who stop smoking before pregnancy or during the first 3 to 4 months of pregnancy reduce their risk of having a low birth weight baby to that of women who never smoked.
The health benefits of quitting smoking far exceed any risks from the average 5-pound weight gain or any adverse psychological effects that may follow quitting.
When Smokers Quit – What Are the Benefits Over Time?
20 minutes after quitting: Your heart rate drops. (US Surgeon General's Report, 1988, pp. 39, 202)
12 hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. (US Surgeon General's Report, 1988, p. 202)
2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Your circulation improves and your lung function increases. (US Surgeon General's Report, 1990, pp.193,194,196,285,323)
1 to 9 months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection. (US Surgeon General's Report, 1990, pp. 285-287, 304)
1 year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's. (US Surgeon General's Report, 1990, p. vi)
5 years after quitting: Your stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker 5-15 years after quitting. (US Surgeon General's Report, 1990, p. vi)
10 years after quitting: The lung cancer death rate is about half that of a continuing smoker's. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decrease. (US Surgeon General's Report, 1990, pp. vi, 131, 148, 152, 155, 164,166)
15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker's. (US Surgeon General's Report, 1990, p. vi)