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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.

September 1, 2020 Read Time - 9 minutes

What Happens When you Quit Smoking? Learn What to Expect When You Quit Smoking Today

Quitting smoking is one of the best things that somebody can do for their health. There are many benefits, but there are many challenges as well. Learning about what happens when you quit smoking and what to expect after quitting smoking can help towards a successful quit attempt.

What Happens When You Quit Smoking? – A Timeline of Health Benefits

  • 20 minutes after smoking your heart rate and blood pressure will decrease to normal levels. Blood vessels constrict after ingesting nicotine, which causes your heart to pump faster. This fluctuation of heart rate also occurs between cigarettes for current smokers.
  • 12 hours after smoking, carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal. Blood carries out the bodily function of transporting oxygen from the lungs to the cells. The carbon monoxide produced by smoking replaces oxygen in the lungs and bloodstream leading to a deficiency in oxygen where it is needed. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause nausea, headache, and dizziness.
  • 2 to 3 days after smoking nerve endings begin to regenerate. This allows you to be more sensitive to smell and taste.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after smoking the performance of your lungs begins to improve leading to improved circulation and oxygenation of your body.
  • 1 to 9 months after smoking cilia in the lungs are repaired. Cilia are tiny hairlike organelles that extend from the surface of nearly all mammalian cells. 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. Take a look at the article “Learn How to Clean Lungs After Quitting Smoking” to learn more about helping your lungs heal.

What Happens When You Quit Smoking? – Long Term Benefits

  • 1 year after quitting smoking your risk of coronary heart disease will reduce by 50%. Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 610,000 deaths are caused by heart disease each year (that’s one quarter of total deaths every year). There are other causes of heart disease besides smoking, but 20% of heart disease deaths are directly linked to smoking (that’s 122,000 deaths per year!).
    • Smoking leads to heart disease because the nicotine causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, increased blood clotting, a reduction in the amount of oxygen that gets to your heart, and it damages cells in the coronary artery. Inhaling carbon monoxide also contributes to heart disease.
  • 5 years after smoking your risk of various cancers is greatly reduced. Lung cancer immediately comes to mind when discussing smoking, but smoking causes many other types of cancers such as mouth, esophagus, throat, and bladder. The likelihood of developing these cancers is cut in half after 5 years of non-smoking. Stroke and cervical cancer can also be caused by smoking. After 5 years of smoke free life, the risk of stroke and cervical cancer is reduced to that of a non-smoker. The reduction in risk of stroke can occur in as little as 2 years.
  • 10 years after smoking your risk of dying from lung cancer is half that of what it would be if had been smoking over the past 10 years. Your risk of pancreas or larynx cancer is also reduced.
  • 15 years after not smoking your risk of coronary heart disease will be equal to that of a non-smoker.

Although quitting smoking at an earlier age translates to greater benefits, nobody is too old to quit. Regardless of how old you are, you can enjoy the benefits of quitting smoking for the rest of your life. Improvement of your health and quality of life is what happens after you quit smoking. Start today.

What Happens When You Quit Smoking? – Changes in Appearance and Sensation

Smoking doesn’t just affect the inside of your body. It affects your skin, eyes, hands, lips, general appearance, and odor. What to expect after quitting smoking includes:

  • Stronger healthier skin. Smoking deprives skin of oxygen leaving skin looking pale. It also leads to degradation of collagen and elastin, the materials that keeps skin youthful.
  • Yellow stains disappear on teeth and fingers.
  • Fresher scent. After quitting smoking not only will you have an improved sense of smell, you’ll smell better to others.
  • Increased energy is another answer to what happens after you quit smoking. Getting more oxygen into your cardiovascular system will translate to feeling energized.

What Happens When You Quit Smoking? – Side Effects of Withdrawal

Unfortunately there are a number of negative side effects of quitting smoking that can be challenging to overcome. If you quit smoking, headaches may be an issue along with other physical side effects such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Tingling in hands and feet
  • Sweating
  • Coughing and sore throat
  • Increased appetite and associated weight gain (approximately 5 to 10 pounds)
  • Constipation
  • Cravings for nicotine

After smoking, the mind strongly desires the “feel good” effects that ingesting nicotine produces.The mental and behavioral addiction to nicotine leads to some mental side effects. If you quit smoking, anxiety and depression are common challenges along with other symptoms such as:

  • Irritability, frustration, and anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Cravings for nicotine

Keep in mind that what happens after you quit smoking depends on the individual. You may only experience a small subset of the above symptoms. Some people will experience more intense side effects than others. Effects of quitting smoking may be worse at certain times of the day or in certain environments. This element of withdrawal is due to cognitive associations between smoking and certain people, places, or habits. If you know of specific associations you have with smoking, such as driving your car, try to avoid them. Perhaps take public transportation if available or ride a bike. Breaking through these associations is greatly benefited if you know what to expect when you quit smoking.

People who have smoked for a long time or those who have smoked in large quantity are more likely to experience side effects of quitting smoking. Regardless of how much a person has smoked, none of the above symptoms of are dangerous. They may be uncomfortable, or even seem unbearable, but they will run their course and subside with time.

When you quit smoking depression may be a difficult side effect to work through. Some antidepressant medications can be used for treating smoking cessation. Take a look at the article “What Smoking Cessation Medications Exist” to learn more about treatment options.

What to Expect When You Quit Smoking – How Long Do Side Effects Last?

For most people the side effects of quitting smoking will only last a few weeks. For some people symptoms can last several months. Effects of quitting smoking typically peak around 48 hours after quitting, but it is not uncommon for withdrawal symptoms to be intense for the first week. After that the withdrawal symptoms continue to lessen if you stay smoke free.
A few smoking cessation side effects can persist for long periods of time. Sudden cravings long after quitting are not uncommon, and some may struggle with weight gained for longer periods of time.

What to Expect When You Quit Smoking Cold Turkey

Quitting smoking without weaning tobacco use, using medications, counseling, or other therapy is known as quitting ‘cold turkey’. The effects of quitting smoking are not different if you quit cold turkey compared to other methods. However, you may experience side effects at higher intensity if you quit cold turkey.
Will you be more successful if you go cold turkey? Probably not. Success rates for quitting attempts when done in the cold turkey fashion range between 3 and 10%. Quitting smoking is hard and doing it by sheer willpower isn’t easy.

The main benefit to quitting cold turkey is that it is free and it does not require time spent at medical appointments or counseling sessions. It is worth a try (or multiple tries), but if it doesn’t work for you don’t get overwhelmed or lose hope, there are other ways to quit that include support during your attempt.

Preparing for What Happens When You Quit Smoking

Deciding to quit is an important step of the process. If you feel sudden motivation to quit ‘cold turkey’ then go for it and follow through. If you’ve had quit attempts in the past or otherwise suspect quitting cold turkey won’t work for you then you may want to investigate other methods. There is an abundance of tips and tricks available to help a person quit smoking, but quitting is different for everyone and some tips might be more helpful than others. Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider to discuss a plan to quit. They can help you navigate quitting as well as provide encouragement and support.

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

Moving to a new location might be a good time to quit. Moving is a big life change that can shake up your daily habits. This shake up might help to take smoking away from other routines.

When to Contact a Doctor

If you are a smoker, anytime is a good time to talk to a doctor about quitting. Talking to a doctor about quitting can improve your chance for a successful quit by more than double. A doctor can help construct a quit-plan that is right for you including recommendations for over-the-counter or prescription medications. If you are ready to quit, call or book online with PlushCare to set up a phone appointment with a top U.S. doctor today.


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

WHO. Tobacco Fact Sheet. Accessed May 29, 2020 at Smoking Cessation. Accessed May 29, 2020 at

Medlineplus. Smoking Cessation Support Groups. Accessed May 29, 2020 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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