The benefits of quitting smoking
Smoking remains the most preventable cause of death and illness in the world, with physical health benefits shown just one day after quitting. Stopping smoking is one of the most important steps to take to improve both physical and mental health, along with improvements in saving money, social well-being, and reducing harm to others through second-hand smoke.
Quitting with a stop smoking service makes you 3 times more likely to quit for good, with many local stop smoking services offering free treatment options, such as nicotine replacement therapy and 1-1 tailored support. Find out more about your local Stop Smoking service at NHS, Better Health, Stop Smoking.
Smoking is known to increase the risk of multiple health problems, such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, and more. Cigarettes and cigarette smoke contain unhealthy chemicals, many of which are poisonous for the body, and are associated with arterial blockages, decreased blood flow and oxygen to the heart, alongside withdrawal effects.
However, stopping smoking can reduce, cut in half, or in some circumstances, eradicate these risks, no matter how much or how long someone has smoked. Many studies have been conducted on the outcomes of smoking cessation with the evidence pointing to quitting as one of the most effective actions someone can take to improve their health across a range of measures.
It’s never too late to stop smoking – quitting at any age, no matter how long you have smoked or how many a day, there are benefits to your health.
A prospective study on 1.2 million women in the UK found that stopping smoking before the age of 40 prevents more than 90% of the increased risk of dying from continuing to smoke. Public Health England found similar results with people who stopped smoking before the age of 50 having a 50% reduced risk of dying from a smoking related illness.
Stopping smoking not only reduces the risk of poor physical health from smoking related illness but is shown to add years of life expectancy, with the sooner someone stops, the greater the added life expectancy. Stopping smoking at the ages of 60, 50, 40, and 30, respectively leads to added life expectancy of 3, 6, 9, or 10 years.
There are so many physical benefits to stopping smoking. The table below highlights the benefits that are seen as soon as someone makes the decision to stop smoking.
|Time since quitting||Physical benefits|
|20 minutes||Pulse rate returns to normal.|
|8 hours||Oxygen levels return to normal and carbon monoxide levels in the blood reduce by half.|
|48 hours||Nearly all carbon monoxide is eliminated from the body. Lungs begin to clear of any smoking debris. Taste and smell improve.|
|72 hours||Breathing becomes easier, as the bronchial tubes begin to relax, and energy levels increase.|
|2-12 weeks||Circulation improves.|
|3-9 months||Coughing and wheezing reduces.|
|1 year||Increased risk of smoking-related heart attack reduces by half.|
|10 years||Risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a continuing smoker.|
|15 years||Risk of heart attack decreases to the same level as someone who has never smoked.|
Sourced from ASH, 2020.
Mental wellbeing benefits
A recent research review looking at findings from 102 studies and involving nearly 170,000 people found that stopping smoking had a positive effect on mental health, with reduced rates of anxiety, depression, and stress compared to individuals who continued to smoke. Another important finding to note in this study, is that the results could be seen just after 6 weeks of stopping, highlighting how quickly not only the physical benefits are felt from quitting, but the benefits of improved mental well-being too.
Further studies have investigated the impact of smoking on mental health conditions, finding that on average, those who experience mental health problems are more likely to:
- Smoke compared to the general population.
- Smoke more heavily.
- Have a lower life expectancy than those who do not experience a mental health problem.
However, stopping smoking has been shown to have similar effects to antidepressants, with people reporting feeling calmer, more positive, and experiencing less symptoms of anxiety and depression. Smoking is also known to interfere with antipsychotic/antidepressant medication and therefore, stopping smoking can lead to reduced dosage needed to manage the initial symptoms.
Alongside the social, physical, and mental health benefits, stopping smoking can be a substantial financial incentive with large sums of money saved from reducing or quitting altogether. A recent survey found that within two weeks of quitting, 34% of individuals reported one of their top benefits to be saving money. Stopping smoking is associated with:
- Average savings of £6.93 a day.
- Average savings of £48.51 a week.
- Average savings of around £2523 a year.
*Average savings based on smoking 15 cigarettes a day
Switching to nicotine replacement products or e-cigarettes can help save a lot of money, with a survey conducted on a representative population in the UK finding e-cigarette and NRT users to spend nearly 70% less on average per week compared to current smokers.
In 8 hours, your physical health improves. In one week, you save money. In two weeks, your mental well-being improves. In 4 weeks, you’re 5x more likely to quit for good.
Stoptober encourages smokers to stop smoking for 28 days throughout the month of October. Stopping smoking for 28 days means you’re 5 times more likely to quit for good, and you’re 3 times more likely to have a successful quit attempt with the support of a stop smoking service.
Many local stop smoking services offer free treatment options such as tailored support, nicotine replacement therapy, and more. To find out more about your local stop smoking service and for further resources, please visit the NHS website – Better Health, Quit Smoking.
Censuswide survey (2023) reported by The Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/95-of-ex-smokers-see-positive-changes-soon-after-quitting
Jackson S, Shahab L, Kock L, West R, Brown J. Expenditure on smoking and alternative nicotine delivery products: a population survey in England.Addiction. June 2019. doi:10.1111/add.14709
PHE (2015) E-cigarettes: an evidence update. A report commissioned by Public Health England. Public Health England. http://www.gov.uk
Pirie, K., Peto, R., Reeves, G.K., et al. (2013) The 21st century hazards of smoking and benefits of stopping: a prospective study of one million women in the UK. Lancet 6736(12), 61720-61726.
Taylor et al (March, 2021). ‘Smoking cessation for improving mental health’. Cochrane. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD013522.pub2