It's that time of year - when you decide you've had your last cigarette.

Sure, you said the same last year and the year before, but this time you're quitting.

Without question, giving up smoking is the best thing any smoker can do for their health - as around half will die from the deadly addiction.

On average, smokers die on average 10 years earlier than non-smokers with greater likelihood of contracting lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

The sooner smoking is given the boot, the sooner the body can begin to repair itself.

One of the scariest aspects of quitting smoking can be the unknown of what will happen and this often puts people off trying to be smoke-free in the first place.

The PHA offers these helpful tips to keep you on track:

  • Set a specific date on which you want to stop smoking and stick to it. Let people know so they can support you in your quit attempt. Try to encourage a group of your friends or family to stop with you and support one another.
  • To get started, it is really useful to have a careful look at what you do at the moment. Review your smoking habit and change your routine to avoid situations when you usually smoke, eg if you smoke having a cup of coffee, try tea instead. If you smoke first thing in the morning, take a shower instead or if you smoke when you are on the phone hold a pencil and doodle. If you smoke on your way to work, take a slightly different route to help change your routine.
  • In the first few days after quitting, drink lots of water and fluids to help flush out the nicotine and other poisons from your body. Try to avoid alcohol and coffee, as these tend to increase the desire for a cigarette.
  • Don't fall into the trap of having ‘just one’ cigarette. Be on your guard against temptation – one cigarette can easily lead to another.
  • Instead of smoking, use the ‘tangle’ found in the PHA’s free stop smoking resource ‘Quit Kit’ as an alternative for something to do with your hands. You can order your kit free of charge by logging on to www.want2stop.info . Alternatively, occupy your hands with a stress or tennis ball.
  • When you feel like smoking a cigarette, try texting or ringing a friend – it will help the craving to pass and take your mind off it.
  • Avoid eating high-energy, high-sugar snack foods in place of cigarettes; try fresh fruit, a low-fat yogurt or sugar-free gum instead.
  • Avoid skipping meals or eating sweets as both cause a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels which make cravings worse.
  • Keep active. Walk more; go for a swim or a cycle; dance to music at home; do some vacuuming; gardening; or, wash the car. Any physical activity produces chemicals in the body which make people feel better. Physical activity has been shown to help quit attempts and will help to reduce weight gain.
  • Put the money you are saving on cigarettes away so that you can buy something you really want. It can help motivate you when things are tough.Quitting a 20-a-day habit will deliver an average £3,420 a year saving.

What happens to the body

The human body is an amazing thing. Just 20 minutes after that last cigarette, it begins to recover.

Nicotine, the addictive chemical in smoking, acts as a stimulant and gives that all-important ‘kick’.

Not long after the last puff of smoke, heart rate and blood pressure return to normal following this high.

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Eight hours

This is the testing time when most smokers reach for another cigarette.

The effects of withdrawal are strong as nicotine leaves the bloodstream and cravings start to happen.

One day

Anxiety and ‘stress’ levels peak. The feeling of stress associated with quitting smoking isn’t usually stress – it’s a sign of withdrawal.

That’s why it’s untrue that smoking de-stresses, it’s just feeding a craving.

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In fact, research shows non- and ex-smokers feel less stressed than smokers.

Two to three days

If you decide to go ‘cold turkey’ there’s no nicotine left in the body but it’ll take a while to adjust to this new feeling. Using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) such as gum, patches or e-cigarettes supplies the body with nicotine and allows smokers to wean themselves off smoking gently, making it easier to quit cigarettes.

Taste and smell receptors are given the chance to heal, meaning food will never have tasted so good!

One week

Making it one week smoke-free means quitters are over the worst of it.

It’s perfectly normal to think about smoking regularly – it’s now a case of mind over matter as the body no longer physically craves tobacco.

Many quitters experience a nasty cough, but this is perfectly normal – it’s the lungs’ way of clearing themselves as much as they can.

Two weeks

A cigarette and lighter on the charred bed.
A cigarette and lighter on the charred bed.

Blood circulation, especially to the gums and teeth, returns to normal levels, the same as a non-smoker.

Now that the mouth isn’t being bombarded with smoke, tissue damaged by gum disease can recover.

One month

Withdrawals can range from anger, anxiety, insomnia and mild depression, but by month one these feelings should have subsided. If not, a trip to the GP is recommended. Quitters who make it to four weeks smoke-free are five times more likely to stay smoke-free for good.

Two months

The risk of heart attack risk has started to drop. With lung function improving too, climbing the stairs gets that little bit easier each day.

Three months

Walking long distances is a lot easier now. Any bad coughs should have disappeared, but if not, being seen by a doctor is imperative as it can be a sign of something more sinister.

Six months

Any tiredness and shortness of breath will be a thing of the past.

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Cilia, air sacs in the lungs, have re-grown and healed some of the damage caused by smoking, but the lungs will never be 100% healthy.

One year

Ex-smokers are 50% less likely to have a heart attack, heart disease or a stroke within just one year of quitting.

Five years

Diabetes is an illness long-term smokers can develop. Make it five years smoke-free and the risks of it occurring are the same a non-smoker.

Five to 10 years

Amazing! The risk of having a stroke is now the same as that of a non-smoker. Smoke makes blood sticky and hard to move around the body and that’s why smokers are much more likely to have a stroke.

10 years

Lung cancer is the biggest risk to a smoker’s life. Within 10 years of quitting, the chance of death from lung cancer is half that of a smoker. The risk from other cancers such as mouth and pancreatic have reduced significantly.

Post-10 years

When smoking, the heart works harder to pump smoke-ridden blood and this leads to increased risk of heart attacks and disease. After 10 years smoke-free, the risk of heart disease is the same as a non-smoker.