If quitting smoking was one of your New Year's resolutions for 2020 perhaps this Sunday is the best time to do it. You may have been smoking for a year or 50, but doctors say it is never too late to give up a bad habit. Plus, it turns out that the miracle that is the human body can reverse a lot of the damage brought on by years of smoking and the effects of quitting can be felt almost instantly.
Immediately after quitting smoking, the body begins a process of repair to minimize already-done damage. Your risk of suffering from diseases related to smoking, especially coronary diseases, starts to drop every minute you decide not to smoke again. You'll have more supple and hydrated skin, healthier hair, nails and fewer or less visible wrinkles. As an added bonus, you'll be less likely to lose your teeth or turn off people with your bad breath.
Last year, the Tobacco Atlas estimated that about 14.5 million adults and 252,000 children in Turkey smoked every day. It said about 83,100 people die from tobacco-related diseases in Turkey each year, with 31% of all deaths among Turkish men and 12% of women's deaths attributed to those very diseases.
According to the Turkish Thoracic Association, cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 poisonous chemicals – such as benzene, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide and arsenic – that cause cancer. According to the association, the nicotine in cigarettes can be as addictive as hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.
Ahead of Feb. 9, National Quit Smoking Day, we've prepared a list of reasons to say no to tobacco alongside a timeline by the British National Health Service (NHS) detailing the changes your body will go through after you smoke that final cigarette.
The first hour
Just 20 minutes after you stop smoking, your heart rate drops and returns to its normal resting rate. Blood circulation also starts to improve and your blood pressure begins to drop within the hour.
Within eight hours, the carbon monoxide and nicotine levels in your blood are reduced by more than half, going down to a more normal level. When you inhale carbon monoxide via cigarette smoke it replaces oxygen particles in your blood, lowering the amount of oxygen going to your tissues and disrupting their function. This is usually the time when people start getting cravings and withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in.
Carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to that of a nonsmoker. You'll also stop exposing your friends and loved ones to second-hand smoke. However, you may feel more anxious and stressed than normal due to cravings.
Nicotine has left your blood. The lungs start to clear out mucus and debris – so cue coughing fits. Don't be discouraged by all the coughing, it's only your body trying to clear its airways.
One of the very first changes many smokers say they notice when they quit, and often within just a few days, is a dramatic improvement in their sense of taste and smell. This happens because previously damaged nerve endings start to regrow.
Tobacco smoke can dull the senses so much that it makes everything taste very bland. Professor Y. Birol Saygı from Beykoz University's Department of Gastronomy and Culinary Arts seconded that statement, saying: "When you stop smoking, nicotine levels in the body decrease. After the nicotine leaves your body, your sense of taste improves and food becomes much more enjoyable. Flavors also become more pronounced."
You might have heard how your taste buds and the receptors inside your nose are connected. Quitting smoking decreases inflammation and swelling in the body, and in 48 hours you'll notice your sense of smell getting stronger. You may even start to recognize that repulsive smell of stale tobacco in your hair, on your clothes or on other people. Savor this to use as motivation to keep yourself going.
Three days after quitting smoking you'll start to breathe like a normal person again and realize the capacity of your lungs.
"After 72 hours of being tobacco-free, all traces of carbon monoxide have left the lungs, so it makes breathing easier. The bronchial tubes also begin to relax, and the body's energy levels increase," Saygı said.
There's more good news. A study published in the journal Nature last week showed that smokers can effectively turn back time in their lungs by kicking the habit, with healthy cells emerging to replace some of their tobacco-damaged and cancer-prone ones. However, this is also when withdrawal symptoms reach their peak, so make sure to power through.
"The first two or three weeks after quitting smoking can be a very difficult process for many smokers as they experience signs of withdrawal and have to learn how to cope with strong impulses," Saygı warns. With more oxygen-rich blood coursing through your veins, your circulation starts to improve and you feel less cold in your extremities. You may notice that physical activity and exercise become a lot easier, and you get less winded. Sinus congestion also improves.
Your coughing and wheezing subside. Lung function increases by up to 10%, making breathing much easier. The risk of respiratory infections begins to drop. For women, not smoking for three months increases fertility rates while also reducing the risk of premature births.
Your risk of heart disease and heart attacks is halved compared to a smoker. A couple of years later, your risk of stroke also drops significantly as your blood vessels begin to widen again, making blood clots less likely.
Once you pass that decade mark, your risk of lung cancer is reduced by 50%. The chance that you'll develop cancers of the mouth, esophagus, bladder, throat and kidneys is also far less likely. The cells that were once precancerous are now replaced with healthy ones.
Your risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack or stroke is the same as that of a nonsmoker. Your lung cancer risk can also drop by 90% the longer you go without smoking.
Where do I start?
In Turkey, smokers can apply to the free-to-use government "quitline" (Alo 171) to get counseling on quitting tobacco use and be referred to smoking cessation clinics where specialists can prescribe medications to help counter nicotine withdrawal symptoms and provide psychological and moral support. Enlist your friends and family as your cheerleaders to help you stick to your goals.