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How to stop smoking

Why is smoking bad for me?

On this page we explain why smoking is bad for your health, as well as for the people around you. We also explain why it can be hard to stop smoking, and how inhaling any smoke is harmful.

On this page:

Why is smoking bad for me?

Tobacco smoke contains over 5,000 chemicals, including nicotine. Nicotine, when smoked, is highly addictive. People who smoke are addicted to the nicotine, but are harmed by the tar and other chemicals in tobacco.

Many of the chemicals can cause cancer. Others are poisonous, such as hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide and ammonia. When you smoke, these chemicals can not only damage your lungs, but also pass into your blood and spread through your body. Smoking can affect every part of the body - from your skin to your brain.

Smoking and your lungs

Smoking (or breathing in other people’s smoke, known as second-hand smoke) is a leading cause of many lung conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and lung cancer. According to latest data from the NHS, 35% of all deaths for respiratory conditions can be attributed to smoking. If you smoke and have a lung condition, the most effective treatment is to stop smoking. Read more about how you can quit.

 

Smokers are at higher risk of developing respiratory infections, including flu, pneumonia and COVID-19. And smokers are also at increased risk of more severe symptoms from viral infections if they do get infected.

In addition to the damage caused to the lungs, smoking causes heart attacks, strokes and many forms of cancer. On average, smokers live 10 years less than non-smokers. Smoking tobacco is the biggest avoidable cause of death. That’s not all, smoking causes skin to age prematurely, and increases the risk of impotence and infertility.

Why can it be so hard to stop?

Most smokers want to stop because they know about the risks to their health. But many keep smoking because they’re addicted to nicotine, often from a young age. The tobacco industry has designed and modified cigarettes to make them as addictive as possible, as well as marketing targeted at young people. 

The nicotine in tobacco gets rapidly into your brain and creates a need to continue to smoke.    The falling level of nicotine in your brain creates the urge to smoke. Controlling these urges is the key to being able to kick the habit.

Smoking is often part of your daily routine and habit. Your local stop smoking clinic can support you to manage this side of smoking as well as tackling physical cravings.

Some people can quit just by deciding to stop, but for many others it isn’t that easy.

In this blog, Dr Nick Hopkinson, our medical director, explains why it’s hard to stop smoking, but how there’s support available to help.

Read Nick's blog

Why should I stop smoking?

You’re likely to live longer, feel better and have more money to spend on things and activities you like doing. You’ll also protect people around you from having to breathe in your smoke. Passive smoking is harmful too, especially for children and young people. 

  • If you already have a lung condition, stopping smoking is the best step you can take for your health and quality of life. It will help you cope with your symptoms and stop your condition getting worse.
  • Your friends and family will be healthier too. People who breathe in second-hand smoke are at risk of the same diseases as smokers. Second-hand smoke is particularly dangerous to babies and children as their lungs are still developing and are much more vulnerable to breathing in toxic materials.
  • Smoking puts your lungs at risk - smokers are five times more likely to catch flu and twice as likely to get pneumonia. 
  • It’s never too late to stop, no matter how long you have smoked for. Your lungs will work better, even if you stop when you’re over 60. If you stop smoking when you’re 30, you’re likely to live 10 years longer
  • Stopping is a key way to protect your children’s health in the long term. Children are four times more likely to take up smoking if their parents smoke. 
  • You’ll save money – our online questionnaire tells you roughly how much money you’ll save each year if you stop smoking.
  • As well as being bad for your health, smoking is also bad for the environment. Smoking and the tobacco industry drive deforestation, corruption, child labour, and other human rights abuses.   

I managed to stop smoking 10 years ago and have a new lease of life. I now enjoy swimming and cycling. I wouldn’t have been able to push myself as hard if I were still smoking - and coughing.Michael

If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, quitting could save you more than £300 every month - that's nearly £4,000 a year!

Different types of tobacco

There’s no safe way to smoke tobacco.  Tobacco comes in different forms – all of which are harmful and addictive:

  • Cigarette brands marketed as low tar, light or menthol are not safer than other cigarettes (many of these types of cigarettes are now banned in the UK   , but are still available abroad). Smokers get similar amounts of tar and other chemicals from these cigarettes. 
  • Roll-up cigarettes are just as dangerous as manufactured cigarettes. Filters do not make smoking any safer and are a source of plastic pollution 
  • Smoking cigars or pipes are also bad for your health.
  • Cannabis smoking is harmful for your health. 
  • Shisha smoking often contains tobacco, but it’s the burnt charcoal that increases the harm. The smoke goes through water but still contains the same dangerous chemicals and is just as harmful as normal cigarette smoke.

Cannabis smoking

Inhaling any type of smoke is harmful. This especially includes smoking other substances such as cannabis (also known as marijuana, weed, pot, dope or grass). Cannabis smoking is associated with developing emphysema and can make symptoms worse in people with asthma.

You can become addicted to cannabis, and just like tobacco, cannabis smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals. If you mix cannabis with tobacco and smoke it, you’re at risk of becoming addicted to nicotine too.

Regular use of cannabis can also be bad for your mental health, such as increased risk of developing a psychotic illness such as schizophrenia.

Shisha

Shisha, also called hookah, narghile, waterpipe, or hubble bubble, is a form of smoking tobacco. It’s addictive and harmful for your health. Smoking shisha can at least double your risk of developing lung cancer and could also increase your risk of other cancer types, such as mouth or stomach cancers.

Smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco is tobacco that isn’t burned. It’s often chewed, sucked, or breathed in.  There are different types of smokeless tobacco. The products are often known by their south Asian names, such as betel quid, paan or gutkha. 

Smokeless tobacco is addictive and harmful for your health, and is not a safe alternative to smoking. It’s associated with mouth cancer, cardiovascular disease and problems in pregnancy. As well as tobacco, it can also include other harmful ingredients such as slaked lime, betel nut or areca nut, which are known to cause cancer in their own right.  

Examples of smokeless tobacco are:

  • tobacco with or without flavourings, such as mishri India powdered tobacco and qimam, also known as kimam
  • tobacco with slaked lime or lime paste and areca nut, such as paan, gutkha, zarda, mawa, manipuri and betel quid with tobacco
  • tobacco with other ingredients added, such as kahini, gul, and naswar, also called niswar or nass.

Read next: how to stop smoking

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