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How to stop smoking

Why is smoking bad for me?

Tobacco smoke contains over 5,000 chemicals including nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive. Smokers smoke for the nicotine but are harmed by the tar and other chemicals.

Many of them can cause cancer. Others are poisonous, such as hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide and ammonia. When you smoke, these chemicals can 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.

Outside the lungs smoking causes heart attacks, strokes and cancer. On average, smokers live 10 years less than non-smokers. Smoking tobacco is the biggest avoidable cause of death.

There’s no safe way to use tobacco:

  • Cigarette brands marketed as low tar, light or menthol are not safer than other cigarettes. Smokers get similar amounts of tar and other chemicals.
  • Roll-ups are just as dangerous as manufactured cigarettes and can be more dangerous without filters.

  • Smoking cigars or pipes is also bad for your health.

  • Shisha smoking, also called hookah or waterpipe, also contains tobacco. The smoke goes through water, but contains the same dangerous chemicals and is just as harmful as normal cigarette smoke.

Smokeless or chewed tobacco

Smokeless or chewed tobacco is used by south Asian communities. These tobacco products are known by their south Asian names, such as betel quid, paan or gutkha, and are just as addictive. They can also be harmful, and are associated with mouth cancer, cardiovascular disease and problems in pregnancy. As well as tobacco, they can also include other unhealthy ingredients such as betel nuts or areca nuts, which are known to cause cancer in their own right. 

Examples of these products are:

  • tobacco with or 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

Inhaling any smoke is harmful

This especially includes smoking other substances such as cannabis. Cannabis smoking is associated with developing emphysema. 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.

Why is it so hard to stop smoking?

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. As well as marketing targeted at young people, the tobacco industry has designed and modified cigarettes to make them addictive. 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.

Are e-cigarettes bad for me?

The consensus is that using an e-cigarette or vaping is far less risky than smoking. It’s a less harmful way to receive nicotine and the vapour contains few of the harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke. If they are present, they are at much lower levels. There is now also good evidence that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit.

Why should I stop smoking?

You’ll live longer, feel better and have more money to spend on things and activities you like doing, like holidays. You’ll also protect people around you who used to breathe in your smoke.

  • 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. For example, smokers are 5 times more likely to catch flu.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Stopping is a key way to protect your children’s health in the long term. Children are much more likely to take up smoking if their parents smoke.

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

You could save £3000+ a year when you quit smoking

If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, quitting could save you more than £275 every month - that's over £3,000 a year!

Next: How can I quit smoking? >

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Download our stop smoking information (230KB, PDF)

Last medically reviewed: February 2019. Due for review: February 2022

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.