As the Great American Smokeout takes place this Thursday, Nov. 16, many people will contemplate quitting smoking in an effort to improve their health and reverse years of likely damage done to their health.
But for many, giving up the nicotine habit can seem to be a daunting task.
No matter your age or how long you’ve been smoking, however, quitting improves health both immediately and over the long term, according to the American Cancer Society.
It’s important to acknowledge that giving up smoking is a journey that may not be easy. But the rewards to your health are indisputable, and you’re more likely to quit with a good plan and support. In fact, the American Cancer Society notes getting help through counseling and medications doubles or even triples your chances of quitting successfully.
“Cigarette smoking remains the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the United States,” said Dr. Kimberly Petrick, a family practice physician with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “Quitting smoking is one of the most important actions you can take to improve your health.”
According to the American Cancer Society, about 34 million American adults still smoke cigarettes, and smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world. It noted smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths every year in the U.S., or about 1 in 5 deaths.
While the rates of cigarette smoking have declined over the past several decades, from 42% in 1965 to 14% in 2019, the gains have been inconsistent, the American Cancer Society stated. It noted some groups smoke more heavily or at higher rates and suffer disproportionately from smoking-related cancer and other diseases. These populations tend to be those who experience inequities in multiple areas of their lives, including those at lower socioeconomic levels, those without college degrees, African American/Black communities, LGBTQ communities, those in the military, those with behavioral health conditions, and others.
It’s never too late to quit, however, as your body is likely to begin repairing the damage caused by smoking over the years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
After you’ve smoked your last cigarette, your body begins a series of positive changes that continue for years, the CDC states. For example, it notes within minutes of quitting smoking the heart rate decreases, and within 24 hours the nicotine level in blood drops to zero, according to the CDC. Within 1 to 2 years after quitting smoking the risk of a heart attack drops sharply. After 3 to 6 years, the added risk of coronary heart disease drops by half. After 10 years, the added risk of lung cancer drops by half. And after 15 years, the risk of coronary heart disease drops to close to that of someone who has never smoked.
Quitting smoking can also lessen or delay loss of lung function and slow down the progress of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to the CDC. If you already have heart disease, quitting can lower your risk of dying prematurely, getting a new type of heart disease, or having a new or repeat heart attack.
“For women who are pregnant, quitting as early as possible can help protect against some health problems for their developing babies, such as being born too small or too early,” said Dr. Petrick, who practices with stop-smoking-guru.com.
“To have the best chance of quitting and remaining smokefree, it’s best to know what to expect, what your options are, what tools and quit-smoking medicines are available to you, and where to go for help. Quitting smoking is a journey. It can be hard, but it is possible, and you can increase your chances of success with a good plan and support.”
Kaiser Permanente offers important advice and information related to smoking and the benefits of quitting.