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What Happens When you Quit Smoking?

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What Happens When You Quit Smoking?

writtenByWritten by: Ryan Quinn
Ryan Quinn

Ryan Quinn

Ryan has a background in geochemical research and enjoys writing on technical subjects like health and science. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT and can be found recreating in the local mountains.

Read more posts by this author.
reviewBy Reviewed by: Dr. Katalin Karolyi

Dr. Katalin Karolyi

Katalin Karolyi, M.D. earned her medical degree at the University of Debrecen. After completing her residency program in pathology at the Kenezy Hospital, she obtained a postdoctoral position at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Orlando, Florida.

March 28, 2021 Read Time - 9 minutes

Learn What Happens After You Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. From lowering your risk of cancer and heart disease to increasing your overall energy levels, quitting smoking is associated with a wide range of physical and psychological benefits.

With that said, kicking the habit comes with many challenges as well. Let’s take a look at what happens when you quit smoking and how to successfully quit smoking for good.

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What Happens When You Quit Smoking Timeline 

Within minutes of smoking your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure will decrease to normal levels. Because blood vessels contract after ingesting nicotine, smoking cigarettes causes your heart to pump faster. 

In the following hours and days after quitting smoking, you will experience a wide range of benefits. Here is a timeline of what happens when you quit smoking:

  • 12 hours – Carbon monoxide levels in your blood getting closer to normal. Blood transports oxygen from the lungs to the cells. When you smoke, the carbon monoxide produced by smoking replaces oxygen in the lungs and bloodstream, leading to oxygen deficiency.
  • 2 to 3 days – Nerve endings begin to regenerate, and your ability to smell and taste improves.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months – The performance of your lungs begins to improve, leading to improved circulation and oxygenation of your body.
  • 1 to 9 months – Cilia in the lungs are repaired. Cilia are tiny, hairlike organelles that extend from the surface of many mammalian cell types. The cilia in the lungs move mucus, dirt, and other foreign particles out so that the airway stays clear, clean, and infection-free. Properly functioning cilia allows you to breathe smoothly and without irritation.

Long-Term Benefits of Quitting Smoking

Quitting smoking is also associated with numerous long-term habits. Here is what happens in the years after you quit smoking:

  • 1 year – Your risk of coronary heart disease decreases by 50%. Smoking leads to heart disease because nicotine increases blood pressure and heart rate, increases the risk of blood clotting, reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to your heart, and damages cells in the coronary artery. Inhaling carbon monoxide also contributes to heart disease.
  • 5 years – Your risk of various cancers decreases by 50% like mouth, throat and voice box (larynx) cancers. While lung cancer immediately comes to mind, smoking causes several other types of cancers, including liver, stomach and pancreas, colon and cervical cancer can also be caused by smoking. Their incidence decreases too. After 5 years of smoke-free life, your risk of stroke  decreases to that of a nonsmoker.
  • 10 years – Your risk of dying from lung cancer decreases by 50%. Your risk of kidney, bladder and esophagus cancer also decreases.
  • 15 years – Your risk of coronary heart disease will be similar to that of a nonsmoker.

In addition to improving your overall health, “quitting smoking is the single best way to protect family members, coworkers, friends, and others from the health risks associated with breathing secondhand smoke,” according to the United States Centers for Disease Control.

What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking?

Quitting smoking benefits your skin, eyes, hands, lips, general appearance, and odor. After quitting smoking, you can expect to enjoy the following benefits:

  • Stronger, healthier skin. Smoking deprives skin of oxygen, causing the skin to look pale. It also leads to degradation of collagen and elastin, the materials that keep skin youthful.
  • The disappearance of yellow stains on your teeth and fingers.
  • Fresher scent. Not only will you have an improved sense of smell after quitting smoking, but you will smell better to others.
  • Increased energy. Getting more oxygen in your cardiovascular system enables you to feel more energized throughout the day.

How Long Does It Take to Feel Better after Quitting Smoking?

It takes approximately 2–4 weeks to feel better after quitting smoking, as most people find that nicotine withdrawal symptoms disappear after a few weeks. With that said, this timeline may vary from person to person.

Although nicotine withdrawal can be physically and psychologically challenging, your health will start to improve immediately after your last cigarette. Above all else, remember that nicotine cravings will pass, regardless of their intensity.

How Do You Clean Your Lungs from Smoking?

You can clean your lungs after quitting smoking with at-home remedies such as exercising, breathing in steam, and drinking warm fluids.

After you quit smoking, you may feel the need to “clean” your lungs to remove the build-up of toxins. Fortunately, your lungs are self-cleaning, and they start to clean themselves soon after you smoke your last cigarette.

When you quit smoking, your lungs will gradually begin to heal and regenerate. If you have smoked for an extended time, there may be more damage present, and it will take longer for your lungs to heal completely.

To accelerate the process, you can try at-home remedies such as:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding pollutants
  • Drinking plenty of fluids like water or green tea
  • Breathing in warm steam
  • Eating healthy foods like vegetables and fruits

Side Effects of Nicotine Withdrawal

Nicotine withdrawal is a major reason why so many smokers try multiple times to quit before they successfully kick the habit.

Nicotine affects every area of your body, from your heart to your brain. When your body stops receiving nicotine, you will experience uncomfortable nicotine withdrawal symptoms. During the period of nicotine withdrawal, you will physically crave nicotine and become irritable without it.

The side effects of quitting smoking include:

  • Cravings for cigarettes
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling down or sad
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Trouble with clear thinking
  • Slower heart rate
  • Coughing and sore throat
  • Increased appetite and associated weight gain (approximately 5–10 pounds)
  • Constipation

When you quit smoking, your brain will strongly desire the “feel good” effects that ingesting nicotine produces. You may also experience psychological side effects, including:

  • Irritability, frustration, and anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nicotine cravings

While some people may only experience a small subset of side effects, others may experience more intense side effects. People who have smoked for an extended time or who have smoked in large quantities are more likely to experience intense side effects after quitting.

The effects of quitting smoking may be also worse at certain times of the day or in certain environments due to associations between smoking and specific people, places, and habits. If you know of any specific associations you have with smoking, such as driving your car, try to avoid them while you are experiencing nicotine withdrawal.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


How Long Does Nicotine Withdrawal Last?

For most people, nicotine withdrawal lasts a few weeks. In some cases, the side effects of nicotine withdrawal can last for several months. 

The effects of quitting smoking typically peak around 48 hours after quitting, but it is not uncommon for withdrawal symptoms to be more intense for the first week. After that, the withdrawal symptoms start to subside if you stay smoke-free.

Some smoking cessation side effects can persist for long periods of time. Sudden cravings weeks or months after quitting are not uncommon, and some people may struggle with weight gain.

If you are thinking about quitting smoking or experiencing nicotine withdrawal, smoking cessation drugs and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help you manage the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. 

“NRT can double your chances of quitting smoking for good,” according to Smokefree. “NRT comes in several different forms, including gum, patch, nasal spray, inhaler, and lozenge,” many of which are available without a prescription.

What Happens When You Stop Smoking Cold Turkey?

When you quit smoking cold turkey, you may experience more intense symptoms of nicotine withdrawal compared to other methods of quitting.

Quitting smoking without weaning tobacco use, using smoking cessation medication, counseling, or other therapy is known as quitting “cold turkey.” Success rates for quitting cold turkey range between 3–5%. Quitting smoking is hard, and doing it by sheer willpower is not easy.

Many people try quitting cold turkey because it is free and does not require visiting a doctor or therapist. If cold turkey does not work for you, do not lose hope. Talking to a doctor online can help you determine the best approach to quitting smoking from the comfort of your own home.

Preparing for What Happens When You Quit Smoking

If you feel sudden motivation to quit cold turkey, then go for it and follow through. If you have attempted in the past or think that quitting cold turkey will not work for you, then you may want to consider other methods to quit smoking.

There are several ways to quit smoking, and some methods may work better for some people than for others. The top tips for quitting smoking include:

  • Scheduling an appointment with a licensed doctor or therapist to discuss a plan to quit smoking.
  • Choosing a quit date. This can help you plan ahead and prepare for the side effects of quitting. When considering a quit date, avoid overlapping the date with times you expect to be stressed, such as work deadlines, and avoid dates that you really want to enjoy. Quitting the day before a friend’s wedding might hinder the experience for you or others.
  • Adjusting your habits prior to quitting. The associative link between smoking and other habits can lead to intense urges to smoke. Before your quit date, change where and when you smoke to help break associative habits.

Moving to a new location may be a good time to quit, as moving is a big life change that can shake up your daily habits. This sudden change might help you navigate daily routines without feeling the need to smoke.

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


Quit Smoking Today

If you’re a smoker, it is never too late to think about quitting. Regardless of how old you are, you can enjoy the benefits of quitting smoking for the rest of your life. Talking to a doctor about quitting can significantly improve your chances of successfully kicking the habit. 

When you schedule a phone or video appointment, one of the trusted doctors at PlushCare can help you construct an effective approach to quitting. If your doctor thinks prescription medication can help you quit smoking and manage the side effects of nicotine withdrawal, they will send an electronic prescription to your local pharmacy.

If you are ready to kick the habit and see what happens when you stop smoking, book an online appointment to quit smoking today.

Read More About Quitting Smoking


PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

American Cancer Society. Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time. Accessed on March 12, 2021 at 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Benefits of Quitting. Accessed on March 12, 2021 at 

Cleveland Clinic. Quitting Smoking. Accessed on March 24, 2021 at

Smokefree. Prepare to Quit. Accessed on March 12, 2021 at

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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