Quitting smoking can be a daunting task. Anyone who's ever tried can attest to that. There are painful physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms resulting from the now-absent -- and once comforting -- vice. Giving up cigarettes is so difficult that about 90 percent of smokers who decide to quit eventually fail [source: University of South Florida]. But for every negative, temporary discomfort that a quitter goes through, there are permanent rewards for giving up the habit that can make the struggle worth it. Keeping those benefits in mind throughout the difficult process can make someone attempting to quit more likely to succeed -- and eventually one of the estimated 40 million ex-smoking Americans [source: National Cancer Institute].
Keep reading to find out what specific rewards smokers can expect when they give up cigarettes for good.
No More Smoky Smell
Smokers aren't usually bothered by the smell of smoke that lingers in their hair and clothes. However, after they quit, they often find that instead of making them want to smoke, that smell offends them the way it does most other non-smokers. After quitting, getting rid of that unpleasant smell is usually as easy as brushing your teeth, taking a shower and making a trip to the dry cleaner. Yellow stains will start to fade from your teeth with time, as well. If you made a habit of smoking in the house or car, have your carpets and upholstery professionally cleaned to get rid of any lingering odor. It might take a while for the odors to completely diminish, but you won't be the only one to notice you don't smell like an ashtray anymore.
Smoking's tendency to cause wrinkles is not some old wives' tale. Smoker's wrinkles form around the lips because of the heat from the tips of cigarettes [source: Hurt]. Repeatedly pursing your lips while smoking a cigarette can lead to those wrinkles, also. But smoking can affect the health of skin all over the body. Nicotine contracts the blood vessels in the skin, and those contracted blood vessels make it more difficult for the blood to carry oxygen and vitamin A to the skin's surface. On top of that, many of the chemicals in cigarettes are harmful to proteins in the skin like collagen and elastin. In the long run, smokers' skin becomes less elastic, and sags and wrinkles earlier than the skin of non-smokers'. After someone quits smoking, though, the quality of their skin can improve after only a few weeks. Some of the wrinkles from smoking may be permanent, but the increased elasticity and improved skin health will make those wrinkles less pronounced [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
Quitting smoking can add up to a lot of money saved from all those un-bought packs of cigarettes. On average, cigarettes cost about $4.50 a pack, although they can cost a lot more or less depending on local tax rates for tobacco products and how many packs a person smokes. Someone who smokes one pack per day will spend about $1,638 in a single year and a whopping $16,380 over the course of 10 years [source: Smith]. Continue to extrapolate for a lifelong smoking habit, and you can see just how much money smoking costs. On top of the money for buying cigarettes, smoking costs money in places that you might not expect. For example, if you smoke inside your house, you may end up getting less money for it if you ever decide to sell. Buyers often offer less for a house if it smells like smoke to account for the cleaning costs to remove the smell. The same is true if you smoke in the car. You might have to pay extra to have a car detailed before you sell it to get the smoky odor out of the upholstery.
Lower Insurance Premiums
Savings on insurance costs can add up to a hefty sum for former smokers. That's because it's common for one of the first questions on the medical history questionnaire of a health insurance application to be whether or not you smoke. Because of the many health risks associated with smoking, most health insurance providers consider smokers a liability, and charge them more for their monthly premiums to account for the increased risk of insuring them. That increase varies according to their location and the health insurer, but can be anywhere from $20 to $50 per month [source: Associated Press]. Even if you have health insurance through your employer, you might have to pay an extra fee on top of your premium. However, some states have laws that don't allow businesses to discriminate on the basis of whether or not someone smokes.
But the extra $240 to $600 dollars you could pay annually in health insurance costs is only the tip of the iceberg. Life insurance providers charge smokers up to double the usual monthly premium, due to their increased risk of cancer and other fatal diseases. Believe it or not, even homeowner's insurance can be less expensive for non-smokers. Many insurers offer a 10 percent discount to non-smokers, since smokers are statistically more likely to burn down their houses.
Multiple studies have shown that regular smoking deadens the senses of smell and taste [source: National Cancer Institute]. The exact reasons for the changes are still murky for scientists, and not all smokers experience the decrease in sensitivity as much as others, or even at all. But many smokers find that their appetites increase after they stop smoking, and they are able to enjoy foods more than they used to. That change usually only takes a few days. Possible theories to explain the improved palates of ex-smokers include constricted blood vessels in the nasal passages and taste buds becoming flattened from exposure to smoke.
Smokers should be careful about overindulging their newfound appetite, though. Nicotine speeds up metabolism, so after quitting, most smokers experience a few pounds of weight gain. On top of that, some ex-smokers experience increased cravings for fat and sugar as symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Focusing on healthier snacks can prevent further weight gain.
Better Physical Shape
The carbon monoxide in cigarettes prevents oxygen from getting to the blood. In the long run, that creates problems for the health of smokers' hearts. In the short term, those decreased oxygen levels makes physical exertion more tiring. Smokers usually have decreased stamina for exercise, and often experience shortness of breath during everyday activities like climbing a set of stairs or briefly jogging to catch a bus. Stamina starts to improve for ex-smokers a few weeks after quitting, so normal activities and vigorous exercise will be easier. Not only that, but that annoying smoker's cough will start to disappear after a few months. At first, it might get worse, but as the lungs naturally clean themselves of the tar in cigarette smoke, breathing will become much easier [source: National Cancer Institute].
Decreased Risk of Cancer
Smoking cigarettes increases a person's risks for not only lung cancer, but also cancer of the stomach, mouth, throat, kidney, cervix, pancreas and bladder. And 40 percent of the premature deaths in the United States that result from smoking in a given year are from cancer [source: National Cancer Institute]. The good news is that quitting will improve a person's health no matter how long he or she smokes. The idea that a lifelong smoker might as well keep smoking just doesn't hold up. An ex-smoker who has gone without a cigarette for five years has reduced his risk of lung and oral cancer by a full 50 percent [source: National Cancer Institute]. Ten years after quitting smoking, that same ex-smoker has the same risk of contracting lung cancer as someone who has never smoked a cigarette [source: University of Florida].
Family and Friends
Smokers are used to being told they should quit the habit by their non-smoking family and close friends. Quitting can mean a lot to a smoker's spouse and children. But giving up cigarettes doesn't only make loved ones happy; it can also improve their health. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 46,000 people die every year from heart disease caused by secondhand smoke, and 3,000 non-smokers die from smoking-related lung cancer [source: National Cancer Institute]. Secondhand smoke, the smoke that non-smokers breathe in when they are close to smokers, is most harmful for those who are exposed to smoking regularly. Most often, that means children and spouses of smokers are at the greatest risk. Children who live in a home where someone smokes are more likely to develop chronic respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis. Even without considering the dangers of secondhand smoke, children with at least one smoking parent are more likely to begin smoking later in life. That risk goes down if the parent quits before the child grows up [source: Gilman].
Freedom from Addiction
The nicotine in cigarettes is an extremely addictive substance. Smokers begin to enter nicotine withdrawal only 20 minutes after finishing a cigarette, and it takes about two and a half cigarettes before the average smoker has a full dose of nicotine [source: Volkow]. Those highly addictive properties explain why most smokers smoke regularly throughout the day, and why some smoke almost without stopping. The short time that nicotine actually affects the body also explains why smokers have such a hard time quitting; it doesn't take very long to crave the next cigarette. The physical addiction to nicotine is usually gone only a few weeks after quitting, however. After quitting, you won't have to spend time worrying about what you'll do if you run out of cigarettes late at night, how you will be able to smoke if you have a long flight or when you can take your next smoke break during a day at work.
Improved Overall Health
Cancer isn't the only health risk caused by long-term smoking. Smoking increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and chronic respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. When a person smokes, oxygen in the blood is replaced by carbon monoxide, the blood vessels narrow, and nicotine increases the heart and blood pressure. To make sure enough oxygen is distributed throughout the body, the heart has to pump harder in order to compensate. Eventually, this causes strain on the heart, which causes the heart disease associated with smoking. Respiratory diseases result from inhaled carbon monoxide and tar from cigarettes.
Luckily for smokers who decide to quit, the health of the body improves very quickly after a person stops smoking. The blood pressure and pulse can be back to normal about an hour after a cigarette, and carbon monoxide will be out of the body in a few days. After a month, coughing and shortness of breath will improve. After only a year, an ex-smoker's risk of heart disease goes down by 50 percent. After 15 years, a former smoker has no increased risk of heart attack from smoking [source: University of South Florida].
The FDA recently announced plans to explore nicotine reduction in cigarettes to non-addictive levels. HowStuffWorks takes a look at the possibility.
More Great Links
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Causes of Aging Skin." (Nov. 22, 2010)
- American Academy of Family Physicians. "Smoking: Steps to Help You Break the Habit" December 2009. (Nov. 19, 2010)http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/addictions/tobacco/161.html
- American Cancer Society. "Guide to Quitting Smoking." (Nov. 22, 2010)http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/index
- Associated Press. "Smokers Paying Extra for Health Insurance." MSNBC.com. Feb. 16, 2006. (Nov. 22, 2010)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11394043/ns/health-addictions
- Gilman, Stephen E. "Parental Smoking and Adolescent Smoking Initiation: An Intergenerational Perspective on Tobacco Control." Pediatrics. Vol. 123, no. 2. Page 274-281. February 2009.http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/123/2/e274?maxtoshow=&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=stephen+gilman&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype=HWCIT
- Hendrick, Bill. "Cigarette Smoking Dulls Taste." WebMD.com. Aug. 21, 2009. (Nov. 22, 2010)http://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/news/20090821/cigarette-smoke-dulls-taste-buds
- Hurt, Richard D. "Smoking: Does it Cause Wrinkles?" Mayoclinic.com. Oct. 24, 2009. (Nov. 17, 2010)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/smoking/AN00644
- Millman, China. "A Taste for Cigarettes." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Feb. 7, 2010. (Nov. 22, 2010)http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10038/1033928-51.stm
- National Cancer Institute. "Putting a Stop to Smoky Thinking." (Nov. 15, 2010)http://www.smokefree.gov/topic-benefits-smoky.aspx
- National Cancer Institute. "Benefits of Quitting." (Nov. 18, 2010)http://www.smokefree.gov/topic-benefits.aspx
- National Cancer Institute. "Harms of Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting." Oct. 28, 2010. (Nov. 18, 2010)http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/cessation
- National Cancer Institute. "Quit Guide" (Nov. 15, 2010)http://www.smokefree.gov/qg-index.aspx
- Smith, Hilary. "The High Cost of Smoking." MSN Money. (Nov. 22, 2010)http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Insurance/InsureYourHealth/HighCostOfSmoking.aspx
- University of South Florida, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. "Forever Free Booklet 1: An Overview." 2000. (Nov. 16, 2010)http://www.smokefree.gov/pubs/FF1.pdf
- University of South Florida, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. "Forever Free Booklet 3: Smoking and Weight." 2000. (Nov. 16, 2010)http://www.smokefree.gov/pubs/FF3.pdf
- University of South Florida, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. "Forever Free Booklet 5: Your Health." 2000. (Nov. 16, 2010)http://www.smokefree.gov/pubs/FF5.pdf
- University of South Florida, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. "Forever Free Booklet 8: Life Without Cigarettes." 2000. (Nov. 16, 2010)http://www.smokefree.gov/pubs/FF8.pdf
- Volkow, Nora D. "Science of Addiction: Nicotine." American Medical Association Web site. (Nov. 19, 2010)http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/433/ama_nida_nicotine.pdf