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, with tobacco use responsible for more than seven million deaths each year. While it can be difficult to quit, there are a number of health benefits that begin almost immediately after you give up smoking.

Smoking cessation is hard work for most people, so it is helpful to know that the fruits of your labor will not take long to start showing up. Here are some of the benefits you can expect during the first nine months of quitting smoking.

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 9 to 12 months: Shortness of breath and coughing decrease.
  • Within a year: Your risk of cardiovascular disease begins to drop.

It is also important to remember that these improvements continue to grow in the years after you quit smoking. In five to 10 years, your risk of mouth cancer drops; within 10 years, your risk of lung and other cancers declines; within 15 years, your risk for cardiovascular disease drops to close to that of a non-smoker.

Physical Improvements

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

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

New Cough

Once cigarette smoke exposure stops, cilia in the delicate lung tissue begin to regrow. This sometimes causes a new cough to temporarily emerge, because the job of cilia is to move particulates you breathe in back out of the lungs.

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

Breathing Improvements

Likewise, breathing often improves once you quit smoking. Shortness of breath is a sign of COPD, a progressive lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It is primarily a smoker's disease, and quitting tobacco is the best way to halt further damage.

The toxins in cigarette smoke also irritate the sinuses, cause congestion, and dull our sense of smell, which can lead to long-term chronic issues. Ex-smokers often notice improvements with this as well 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.

For instance, you may notice that a habitual cough you've carried with you for years is much reduced (or gone) within weeks of quitting, but your sense of smell hasn't improved. Then, months into cessation, you suddenly realize you can smell subtle scents that have evaded you for a long time. This is not uncommon, so don't despair if some of the benefits don't manifest on the timeline you expect.

Psychological Improvements

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

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

Protect and nurture your quit program through education about what to expect as you recover from nicotine addiction.

For all of the work it takes to clear the many associations we've built up between smoking and our daily lives, it is a must. Breaking those connections and replacing them with healthy responses is part of the process of recovery from nicotine addiction.

Smoking cessation takes time, so settle in and let the smoke-free days pile up. Soon enough you'll be noticing the improvements listed above and so much more. Health benefits continue after a year of smoking cessation.

A Word From Verywell

The CDC reports that seven out of every 10 smokers want to stop smoking. Fortunately, many people who try to quit smoking are able to kick the habit 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.

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11 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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