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Smoking and the lungs

Smoking and the lungs

Download the factsheet as a PDF: English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, Spanish

What does smoking do to my lungs?

Damage the airways

Worsen quality of life

Cause death

Passive smoking

Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are inhaling many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers. Non-smokers are at very low risk of developing lung cancer, but exposure to second hand smoke increases the risk by 20-30%.

How will my lungs benefit if I stop smoking? How soon will I notice these benefits?

There are many health benefits to stopping smoking and not just to your lungs.

Immediate benefits

Levels of toxic substances that are carried to your lungs in cigarette smoke will drop to those of a non-smoker within a few days, which means: Your lungs will be able to take in more oxygen, which will make it easier for you to breathe and you will feel more energetic.

Benefits after a few weeks

Your airways will become less inflamed, which means you will:

Long-term benefits

Long-term damage to your lungs will stop the moment you give up. Severely damaged lungs cannot return to normal, but by quitting before serious damage is done, you can prevent diseases such as COPD and/or asthma getting worse.

If you remain cigarette-free for long enough you will:

How can I quit?

No-one pretends giving up smoking is easy, but if you have made up you mind to quit YOU CAN SUCCEED. Set a ‘quit date’. Use simple tricks to reduce your urge to smoke and help you quit. Look for triggers and plan to avoid them. Find new ways of thinking, behaving and feeling.

Beware: Some triggers for smoking only reveal themselves after you try to live without cigarettes.

Method: Tricks that work for some people may not work for others, so quitting can involve trial and error.

Ask for help: Ask your doctor, pharmacist, clinical pyschologist, or nurse for help. Contact a telephone or internet helpline.

Keep going: The most important thing is to be determined and to persist.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again…

Nicotine addiction is very powerful and so only 5–10% of ‘quit attempts’ are successful. Withdrawal symptoms, such as craving, anxiety, irritability, lack of concentration, inability to sleep, mood swings, hunger and headache, that occur when the brain is looking for a new fix of nicotine, are a common reason for relapsing and treatment can help this.

Treatment options

Nicotine replacement products such as gum or patches can help relieve withdrawal symptoms by delivering small, measured doses of nicotine into your body. Strong evidence shows that anti-smoking medications can double or even triple your chances of being able to quit.

An alternative treatment which doctors recommend for heavy smokers are non-nicotine drugs, such as buproprion SR (Zyban) and varenicline tartrate (Chantix). They are also effective in relieving the cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Nortryptiline is a cheap, generic drug that works as well as bupropion. The idea of taking a drug to kick a drug habit can make people nervous. Some fear unpleasant side effects, while others fear that one addiction will replace another. But smoking is so dangerous for your health that, if you weigh up the options, (i.e. taking medication or continuing to smoke), using drugs to help you give up smoking will almost always be safer.

Don’t feel bad if it takes you more than one attempt

There is no ‘cure’ for smoking; it’s more like managing a chronic disease. Most people go through cycles of stopping and re-starting the habit, which reflects the strength of your addiction. It is not failure. The good news is that: