Health Benefits During the First Months of Smoking Cessation

Smiling woman breaking her last cigarette in half.

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As of Dec. 20, 2019, the legal age limit is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. Tobacco use is responsible for more than seven million deaths each year.

While it can be difficult to quit smoking, there are a number of health benefits that begin almost immediately after you give up cigarettes.

Timeline of Health Benefits

Improvements to your health begin within the first hour of smoking your last cigarette. Some of these include:

  • Within 20 minutes: Blood pressure and heart rate drop.
  • Within a few days: Carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal.
  • Within three months: Lung function and circulation improve.
  • Within nine to 12 months: Shortness of breath and coughing decrease.
  • Within a year: Your risk of cardiovascular disease begins to drop.

The health improvements you'll experience continue in the years after you quit smoking.

For instance, in five to 10 years, you lower your risk of mouth cancer. Within 10 years, you lower your risk of lung cancer, and within 15 years, your risk of cardiovascular disease is closer to that of someone who doesn't smoke cigarettes.

Physical Improvements

As early as one month after you quit smoking and for several months after, you may notice significant improvements in your respiratory health. You will probably experience some or all of the following:

  • Fewer issues with sinus pain
  • Less congestion
  • Less coughing
  • Less shortness of breath

Removal of Tar From the Lungs

Once you stop smoking, cilia (small, hair-like structures) in the delicate lung tissue begin to regrow. This regrowth may cause a temporary new cough because the cilia's job is to move the particulates that you breathe in back out of the lungs.

Cilia get "stuck" when they are clogged with tar from cigarette smoke, but begin to function again after smoking cessation. This helps to remove cigarette tar and other toxins from cigarette smoke that are still in the lungs.

Breathing Improvements

Likewise, your breathing often improves once you quit smoking. Shortness of breath is a common sign of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. COPD is primarily a smoking-related disease, and quitting tobacco is the best way to halt further damage.

Less Congestion

The toxins in cigarette smoke also irritate the sinuses, cause congestion, and dull your sense of smell, which can lead to chronic issues. People who used to smoke often notice improvements in sinus pain, less congestion, and a better sense of smell during the first year of smoking cessation.

It's important to remember that healing from nicotine addiction is a process, and while some improvements happen quickly, others will come more gradually.

Your sense of smell may not come back right away. However, months into cessation you may suddenly realize that you can smell subtle scents that have evaded you for a long time. So don't despair if some of the benefits don't manifest on the timeline you expect.

Less Coughing

You may notice that a habitual cough you've carried with you for years is much reduced (or gone) within weeks of quitting.

Psychological Improvements

When you first quit smoking, you may feel like you're struggling with your mental health due to the challenging symptoms of nicotine withdrawal like anxiety, irritability, and stress.

Remember, these feelings are temporary. After a few weeks, many people feel noticeable improvements in their mental and emotional states.

Better Quality of Life

When you're addicted to nicotine, you are prone to the emotional ups and downs of smoking. If you wait too long before having another cigarette, you might feel agitated or upset until you get your next nicotine fix.

After a few weeks (when most people are past the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal), you will feel the freedom that comes with overcoming addiction. You are no longer held back by smoking. You no longer have to go outside when a craving strikes and isolate yourself from friends and family who don't smoke.

After quitting smoking, nicotine addiction isn't controlling your mood anymore. You will likely feel calmer and happier as well because of all the physical improvements of quitting smoking.

When your physical health improves—you are breathing better, feeling less congested, and your heart rate returns to normal—your mental health will reflect these positive changes.

Decrease in Anxiety and Depression

Research has found that quitting smoking is linked with lower rates of depression and anxiety as well as improving stress levels. Smoking is linked with many damaging psychological effects. For instance, compared to people who don't smoke, people who smoke have:

Once you are through nicotine withdrawal, you may find that quitting smoking will improve your mental health and strength.

Increase in Confidence

You will feel increasingly empowered as the months go by and you are still smoke-free. Quitting tobacco is a confidence booster that has the potential to bring positive change to other areas of your life as well. Quitting smoking can even help give you the confidence to quit other harmful substances.

Stay the course. While noticeable benefits begin to emerge during this time period, your smoke-free life is still new.

A Word From Verywell

Many people who try to quit smoking are able to do so successfully. There are also a number of tools and resources available to help you quit and maintain the benefits of smoking cessation over the long term. The important thing is not to give up—your health can continue to flourish for years to come once you take action and quit smoking.

14 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.