Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking

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The benefits of quitting smoking can usually be felt within days. Health continues to improve as key structures of the lungs and heart start to repair themselves. Although the results can vary from person to person, many of these changes will occur on a fairly standard timeline. After you quit smoking, you can expect to experience a number of benefits that will have a positive effect on your health.

This article discusses the health benefits of quitting smoking, including improved cardiovascular health, lung function, and fertility. It also covers some of the steps you can take to improve your chances of quitting successfully.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

Tobacco contains nicotine and produces chemicals like carbon monoxide that speed up your heart rate and elevate your blood pressure. Vaping with nicotine-based e-cigarette fluids produces the same result. The effect is immediate; it happens the moment you inhale.

Within the first 24 hours of quitting cigarettes, your heart rate, blood pressure, and circulation will improve. Your risk of a heart attack will begin to drop within hours of your last cigarette or vaping session.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and the number one killer of smokers. By stopping cigarettes and remaining smoke-free for a year, your risk of heart attack will be cut in half.

Improvement of cardiovascular health measures can be expected in anyone who quits cigarettes, without exception. That said, what is "normal" can vary based on your underlying risk of hypertension and heart disease.

Improved Smell and Taste

With 48 hours of quitting smoking, you will experience an improvement in smell and taste that will continue to increase in the weeks that follow. The loss of these sensations is a direct result of the effect cigarettes have on the taste buds and nerve receptors in the nose.

Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke, paired with the heated air, can flatten the taste buds and reduce the vascularity that promotes nerve responses. The same vascular restriction in the nose impairs the sense of smell. By giving up cigarettes, you will begin to experience flavors and aromas more profoundly.

Reduced Withdrawal Symptoms

Nicotine withdrawal and cravings are two things that smokers often fear when quitting. Generally speaking, three days after you kick the habit, the nicotine in your system will have been completely depleted. The absence of nicotine will lead to a cascade of withdrawal symptoms, including severe headaches, increased tension, cravings, irritability, insomnia, and fatigue.

Many people deal with withdrawal by using nicotine replacement gums, patches, and e-cigarettes or with drugs such as Chantix (varenicline). You can also deal with cravings by using distractions such as walking or exercising until the sensation passes.

Within a month of quitting, receptors in your brain that have been sensitized to nicotine will start to return to normal. As your nervous system begins to learn how to function without nicotine, the worst of your physical symptoms will gradually subside (over several weeks to a month, on average).

Coping With Cravings

Following that, the focus shifts to learning how to decipher and reprogram the psychological urges to smoke. This includes the desire to use cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) to relieve stress, suppress your appetite, socialize, or end a good meal.

Even when nicotine has been well cleared from your system, these psychological cravings can persist for months. They may be mistaken for withdrawal when they are, in fact, psychological habits built over the course of years and even decades.

Pay attention to the thoughts running through your mind when the cravings first emerge. They will help you identify the triggers for these urges, allowing you to find and implement strategies to counteract them.

For example, if stress triggers a cigarette craving, explore mind-body therapies to reduce your stress. If smoking is part of a social habit, find healthier alternatives (such as walking or playing games) to socialize with friends.

Recap

While nicotine cravings can be challenging, they usually begin to subside over the first few weeks after you quit. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help reduce withdrawal symptoms and nicotine cravings. Other tactics such as finding distractions and using stress management techniques can also help.

Improved Lung Function

The carbon monoxide levels in your lungs will return to a more normalized state by the end of the first day without cigarettes. After one to three months, your lung function may have already improved by as much as 30%.

Improvements in lung function are dependent upon your lung health prior to quitting, but you should quickly experience improvement as measured by the forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV-1).

Moreover, you will begin to have far less bronchial sensitivity. Most people will find that they'll be able to do everyday tasks, like carrying groceries or climbing stairs, without getting winded.

This is because tiny finger-like structures in the lung called cilia will start to regrow and restore the filtration function of the trachea (windpipe) and lungs. Cilia help remove environmental pollutants and toxins that you breathe in. This assists your body in fighting off colds and other respiratory infections.

Smoking literally flattens cilia, effectively paralyzing them and increasing the risk of infections and lung injury. However, the repopulation of cilia doesn't mean that symptoms will immediately disappear. At first, it can lead to the development of a new cough. While distressing, this symptom is perfectly normal, and it is temporary.

As the cilia start pushing toxins out of the airways, the accumulation can trigger coughing spasms as they are expelled from the lungs. In most cases, the coughing will start to subside soon.

In cases of emphysema, the decline in lung function may not be halted but rather slowed. Sometimes, quitting smoking can delay the need for supplemental oxygen or more aggressive medical interventions.

Increased Blood Circulation

Within one to three months of quitting, blood circulation will improve considerably. Nicotine delivers a powerful vasoconstriction effect, causing blood vessels to narrow. This affects practically every organ system in the body. Without the means to effectively deliver oxygen and nutrients or remove carbon dioxide and toxins from tissues via blood circulation, the function of the body's organs suffers.

With increased circulation comes improved skin quality, including a more rosy complexion and greater elasticity and moisture retention. Quitting cigarettes won't necessarily reverse all skin damage (like the development of spider veins in the face and legs). However, you will usually see a marked improvement within a few months.

Improved Fertility

Smoking can have a negative impact on fertility. It can increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth, as well as affect the ability to conceive. One 2017 study found that smoking six or more cigarettes a day has a negative impact on female fertility. 

Three months after quitting, fertility may improve. While research suggests that smoking may lead to some lasting detriments to fertility, conception rates usually improve within a year of quitting.

Long-Term Benefits of Quitting Smoking

In addition to the many immediate health benefits you will experience, quitting smoking will also improve your health and well-being for years to come.

  • Your risk for coronary heart disease drops significantly in the one to two years after you quit, but it also continues to gradually decline in the years that follow.
  • Within three to six years, your risk for coronary heart disease will be around half of what it was when you were smoking.
  • Over time, your risk for dying of a stroke drops to around the same risk as that of a person who has never smoked.

Quitting smoking also reduces your risk for cancer over the long term. Within a decade after quitting, your risk for cancers of the mouth, throat, and voice box drops by half. In the 10 to 15 years after you quit, your risk of lung cancer also drops by 50%.

Recap

Quitting smoking can have an immediate impact on your health, but these benefits continue to emerge in the months, years, and decades after you give up cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that quitting can extend your life by up to a decade.

Benefits of Quitting Vaping

Just like quitting cigarettes, quitting vaping can have many important health benefits. Vaping can have serious health risks including the risk of a type of serious lung damage that is known as e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI).

Some of the major benefits you will experience when you quit vaping include improved heart health, reduced risk of lung disease and injury, and a reduced risk for periodontal disease. 

Quitting vaping can be particularly important for young people. The CDC reports that vaping can permanently affect brain development in people under the age of 25.

Recap

Vaping can have serious health consequences. All of the physical and mental health risks of vaping are not entirely understood, so the sooner you can quit, the better off you will be.

Boost Your Odds of Quitting Successfully

It is important to know what to expect when embarking on a smoking cessation plan. This allows you to formulate the strategies needed to overcome short-term symptoms. Moreover, it helps reduce the anxiety of wondering what's next. Oftentimes, the fear of the unknown is worse than the actual process of withdrawal and recovery.

Whatever approach you choose, don't go it alone. Prepare your friends and loved ones for what to expect so that they can be there to support you. Work with your doctor to find the best cessation tools in advance of starting, including therapy and support groups, rather than scrambling for solutions when symptoms appear.

Today, many smoking cessation aids are provided free under the Affordable Care Act. Benefits can vary, so speak with your healthcare provider to find out what is available for you.

A Word From Verywell

Quitting smoking has a wide range of health benefits that often continue to grow the longer you stick to your cessation goals. Other benefits you may experience including being able to spend time with others without having to go outside to smoke and feeling less out of breath when you are engaging in everyday tasks.

Quitting also helps halt tobacco's impact on your appearance, which can include gum disease, tooth decay, and wrinkling of the skin. The longer you stick with it, the more you will notice these health benefits.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it a good idea to abruptly stop smoking?

    Quitting cold turkey is one approach to smoking cessation. It can be effective, but it is important to be aware of some of the challenges of this method of quitting. Because you are stopping your nicotine use abruptly, you are more likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Research suggests that quitting cold turkey has similar outcomes to gradually tapering your nicotine intake, so choose the method that you think will work best for you.

  • What are the positive effects of quitting smoking?

    Quitting smoking has immediate positive effects including improving your overall health and quality of life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), quitting smoking lowers your risk for cancer and heart disease. It also reduces your risk of premature death.

  • What are the immediate benefits of quitting smoking?

    Around 20 minutes after you have your last cigarette, your blood pressure and heart rate drop. Within a few days of quitting, you'll experience lower carbon monoxide levels in your blood. And in the two to three months after giving up cigarettes, your lung function and circulation begin to improve.

12 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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Additional Reading

By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.