Well Being

What Happens to Your Body If You Stop Smoking Right Now? (Update!)

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photo: Thinkstock

Hey, Blisstree Reader! We thought you might like these three new posts we just published: Can I Become An Ex-Smoker? Watch Me Try Top 7 Smoking Myths That Stop You From Quitting and What Happens to Your Body When You Drink a Coke Every Day, For a Long Time.

This is the first in a series of posts by Bill from California, a Blisstree reader, former smoker, and active member of our passionate community of commenters.

Here's an update: Before you comment, click to read Bill from California's second and third personal essays about smoking.

Am I A Former Smoker?

Almost a year ago to this day, after roughly fifty years of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, I launched myself into a cold turkey quit. Despite the fact that my quit has been an imperfect one with warts, I consider it successful – though others may not. This post is about my quit, but mainly it’s about the many things (positive and negative) I’ve learned in the process.

Launching My Quit

By April 2009, I had tried most of the nicotine replacement therapies in various attempts to quit smoking – Zyban, gum, patches – without success. Then I heard about Champix (known as Chantix in the U.S.), which works directly with the action of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Their quit program allows you to smoke normally for one week while on Champix, then you eliminate cigarettes and continue through a several-month program.

Like my previous experiences with NRTs, this one also failed me, as I found myself still smoking cigarettes well into the second and third week of Champix. So I decided to stop everything cold turkey. No more Champix, no more cigarettes. Most importantly, I set myself a short-term goal: Ten days without adding a molecule of nicotine to my body, so that I could at least get past the chemical part of my addiction and then re-assess. Those ten days were hellish to be sure, but somehow I mustered the strength to get through them and at that point I was launched on my quit.

The First Slip

 

My wife quit smoking 25 years ago. She slips once in a while in reaction to stressful moments, but she is able to limit them. Last summer we were in the south of France for several weeks. I had not smoked since my April pledge. One afternoon, after a pleasant meal in an outdoor cafe, the French couple at the next table lighted up cigarettes.  Suddenly, and out of thin air, my wife and I had the same impulse: We bought the couple drinks and bummed two cigarettes for ourselves. It was a guilty pleasure that raised a smile, but I worried that my quit was finished. But rather than rush out, buy a pack for myself and smoke it, this time I gave the matter some thought. My choice was either to go back to regular smoking – intending to start a new quit at some undetermined moment in the future – or to declare that this time it would be different. What that meant is that this time the slip would be only a minor setback in a long-term, uninterrupted process. But what process and how to make it work? I know that continuing my cold turkey quit would not work – deprivation is not my style! So I set myself some long-term goals that seemed more realistic:

a) Do NOT slip back into regular smoking

b) Recognize and accept that I would continue to have slips, and most importantly

c) Figure out a way to control the slips so as to keep a) going.

Managing Slips

This is the most important and surely the most controversial component of my odyssey. I’ve seen that it cannot work for most, but it has worked (so far, at least) for me. Of course I resist slips, but I also allow that for me they will be inevitable – at least for the time being. When I do slip, I try to stay positive by looking back over the progress I’ve already made in avoiding a relapse into regular smoking. Only then do I buy a pack and  allow myself a few puffs from one of them. Then – and this is important – I destroy the the pack irretrievably, by wetting it down under the faucet and tossing the nineteen survivors into the trash.[tagbox tag='smoking']

I’ve learned that if I keep the 19 smoke-able survivors in the house, I will smoke them. I’ve been known to rummage through ashtrays in the past. So I don’t keep the pack. A pack of 20 cigarettes costs more than six dollars in the San Francisco Bay area, and the taxes continue to rise. So, my method is expensive enough that, after slipping, I’m not so motivated to slip again. During the past year, the frequency of my slips has varied somewhat depending on the stresses that occur, but I’ve been able to continue my imperfect control over them. I’ve learned that it’s very important for me to feel positive about what I have accomplished, and I work on that.

Negative input needs to be confronted directly and rejected. For example, I’ve been told that what I have accomplished is not a quit, but rather that I have simply cut down to a cigarette or so per week, the total of all those stolen puffs. Surely one can make that interpretation, but for me it’s better to see it in another light as an achievement – namely that I have not been a regular smoker for a full year. I have gradually come to feel confident that I will never go back to regular smoking, but freely admit that I have not yet succeeded in eliminating the slips altogether. I believe that I will eventually, and that is my goal – the ultimate prize. In the meantime, though you may disagree, I will continue to think of myself as a former smoker.

Stay tuned for Part 2 by Bill: Bias in the Public Health Community

Original Blisstree Post By Wade Meredith:

I think one of the main reasons it's so hard to quit smoking is because all the benefits of quitting (and all the dangers of continuing) seem very far away. So here's a timeline about some of the more immediate effects of quitting smoking and how they will affect your body right now.

  • In 20 minutes your blood pressure will drop back down to normal.
  • In 8 hours the carbon monoxide (a toxic gas) levels in your blood stream will drop by half, and oxygen levels will return to normal.
  • In 48 hours your chance of having a heart attack will have decreased. All nicotine will have left your body. Your sense of taste and smell will return to a normal level.
  • In 72 hours your bronchial tubes will relax, and your energy levels will increase.
  • In 2 weeks your circulation will increase, and it will continue to improve for the next 10 weeks.
  • In 3 to 9 months coughing, wheezing, and breathing problems will dissipate as your lung capacity improves by 10%.
  • In 1 year your risk of having a heart attack will have dropped by half.
  • In 5 years your risk of having a stroke returns to that of a non-smoker.
  • In 10 years your risk of lung cancer will have returned to that of a non-smoker.
  • In 15 years your risk of heart attack will have returned to that of a non-smoker.

So, you have more immediate things to look forward to if you quit now besides just freaking out about not being able to smoke. So quit now!

View a high-quality graphic representation of this post here.
smoking timeline

Update: Does this make you think it's time to quit? Check out these 5 Smoking Gadgets That Might Help You Quit Smoking.