Why should I quit smoking?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

You should quit smoking to improve your health.

Tobacco use kills more than 440,000 Americans each yeat; that's more than alcohol, cocaine, heroin, homicide, suicide, car accidents, and HIV/AIDS combined.

If you smoke, you have a higher risk of lung disease, heart disease and stroke, cancers of the mouth, stomach and kidney, and sexual impotence and infertility. Smokers also are at increase risk of depression and anxiety, and problem pregnancies. Their lifespan is about 14 years shorter than non-smokers.

Dr. John J. Marshall, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

You should quit smoking to give your blood vessels, heart, kidneys and other organs a big break. Smoking invites into your body a host of drugs, including nicotine, that have negative effects on your blood vessels. These chemicals cause your blood vessels to respond abnormally, which can raise your blood pressure and make it harder for blood to deliver oxygen to your organs. This in turn stresses your heart, lungs and other organs, and can lead to their eventual failure.

Smoking tobacco is a major risk factor for many serious health problems including heart disease, stroke, renal artery disease and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Studies have shown that smoking also spends up the development of plaque build-up on the arteries walls, which also restricts blood flow to vital organs. 

If you quit smoking, your body will reap many healthy rewards, including

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Easier breathing
  • Less risk of kidney disease, heart attack, stroke, PAD and cancer

 No doubt about it, quitting is hard! But it is also worth it. Talk to your doctor about programs, strategies and even medicines that may help you kick the habit for good.

Why quit smoking? You know all the usual reasons: your lungs, your heart, your grungy breath (test yours), your shrunken wallet, your family. If those haven't worked, maybe this will: outrage.

Just imagine knowing that if you spend $10 getting healthier, you'll save $160. Guaranteed. And that the more you spend, the bigger your savings. Eventually, you could invest $50, save $737, and be way healthier. You'd be forking over every spare dollar, right?

That's exactly what your state politicians could be doing—and in most states, exactly what they're not doing. How crazy is that? By the way, put "million" after the $$$ above. Each year, each state could save $737 million on average! That's future jobs money, better-gig-for-you money; infrastructure, cut-the-debt, heal-the-economy money. Big bucks.

Where's it coming from? States got a ginormous windfall in 1998, when big tobacco agreed to pay $206 billion (yep, billion) to them over 25 years. But the average state is wasting it. But more and more of the money is being diverted from stop-smoking programs proven to slash healthcare expenses, lost productivity, and Medicaid payments—not to mention the toll smoking takes on smokers' hearts, lungs, brains, and the people who love them.

"Short-sighted" is polite talk for this. A new analysis has calculated what's being lost: hundreds of millions. If your politicians will just spend the average recommended amount of $74 million on anti-tobacco efforts, your state would pocket at least 11 times that: from $853 million to more than $1 billion. That would do amazing things for your tax bill and job opportunities.

The longer you smoke, and the more cigarettes you smoke each day, the greater the potential damage to your system; however, it is clear that the body begins to repair itself almost immediately after you quit smoking, even if you smoked heavily, and your health and quality of life may quickly improve.

Smoking is probably the biggest risk factor in terms of abdominal aortic aneurysms, which are certainly potentially life-threatening. It's also the number one factor in terms of buildup of plaque, coronary occlusive disease, peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and carotid occlusive disease. The one recommendation I always make is therefore that they try to get off cigarettes.

Of course, there are a lot of different ways, and a lot of different programs, that they can go through to try to do that, but it is indeed very difficult. It is an addictive habit, and it is not easy. Of course, as a doctor, I understand that, but on the other hand, a lot of times, we're talking about life-threatening or limb-threatening problems. It is so difficult, and I see people struggle to get off cigarettes and try to wean themselves from their nicotine dependence. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to stop smoking.

Dr. Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

Without a doubt one of the biggest favors you can do for your heart is to quit smoking. The American Heart Association (AHA) states it’s the most preventable cause of death in the US, attributing it to 20 percent of all deaths. Smokers will die on average almost 14 years earlier than non-smokers. And for every smoker that dies from smoke-related illnesses, there are 20 more living with a serious debilitating illness from smoking.

Smoking increases your risk of hardening of the arteries by damaging the inner walls, causing narrowing as well as increasing risk of clotting, all of which can lead to heart attack and stroke. And that doesn’t even mention all cancer risks associated with smoking. We can save those stats for another month!

Today it’s estimated that about 45 million people or 20 percent of the population in America smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 69 percent of adult smokers actually want to quit.

Dr. Frank T. Leone, MD
Pulmonary Disease Specialist

The health benefits of quitting smoking begin soon after your last cigarette.

  • 20 minutes after quitting: your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
  • 12 hours after quitting: the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • Two weeks to three months after quitting: your heart attack risk begins to drop, and your lung function and circulation begin to improve.
  • One to nine months after quitting: coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) start to regain normal function in the lungs, increasing your body’s ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce the risk of infection.
  • One year after quitting: your risk of heart disease is 50 percent less than the risk for a smoker.
  • Five to 15 years after quitting: your stroke risk is reduced to that of a lifetime nonsmoker; your risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas decreases, and cervical cancer risk (in women) falls to that of a nonsmoker. 
  • Ten years after quitting: your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a smoker, and your risk for cancer of the larynx and pancreas decreases.
  • 15 years after quitting: your risk of heart disease is equal to that of a nonsmoker.

Quitting smoking also helps you to save money. Assuming that a pack of cigarettes costs $4.35:

  • If you smoke 10 cigarettes/day, quitting would save you $66/month, or $792 per year.
  • If you smoke one pack/day, quitting would save $132/month, or $1,583 per year.
  • If you smoke two packs/day, quitting would save you $264/month, or $3,166/year.
  • Quitting smoking also reduces the amount you pay for insurance and reduces the costs associated with illnesses for you and your family (e.g., co-pays for medical visits).

Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and emphysema. If you smoke or use tobacco, quitting is one of the most important ways you can improve your health. A year or two after you quit, your risks for these conditions will drop—in many cases by half. Eventually, your risk for these diseases will be the same as if you had never smoked at all.

Smoking has several health risks, which include lung cancer, as most people know, but also heart attacks, strokes, mouth cancers and many other diseases. Quitting smoking can help decrease the risk of getting some of these diseases. A person who had quit for approximately 10 years goes back to having the same risk of lung cancer as a nonsmoker. So quitting as soon as possible makes it less likely that a person would get any of these diseases.

There are few things you can do that will have such immediate and lasting health benefits as giving up tobacco. Within the hour, your heart rate will fall. By the next day you'll have cleared the excess carbon monoxide from your blood. Within months, you'll be breathing more easily and coughing much less. Over the years, your risk for lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease will have dropped by at least half. In 15 years, you'll have erased your excess risk for heart disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.