Almost 70% of adult smokers say they want to quit; the most common reason
given is concern about their health.
The concern is well justified. The four leading causes of death in the U.S.
-- cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and lung disease -- are all strongly
linked to cigarette smoke exposure. One out of every five deaths in the U.S.
can be attributed to smoking.
In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our November-December 2011 issue, we asked James Beckerman, MD, WebMD's heart health expert, for tips on quitting smoking.
Q: I'm finally ready to quit smoking. Do you have any tips for making it easier?
A: We all know that being tobacco-free is essential to a healthy life. In fact, the most recent report from the Surgeon General details how any exposure to tobacco smoke...
The dangers get worse with age. People still smoking in their 40s and 50s
face a risk of death over the next 10 years three to four times greater than a
But gaining extra years are not the only reward for quitting. Other benefits
begin immediately, according to the American Cancer Society, and they just keep
Within 20 minutes of snuffing out your last cigarette, your blood pressure
and heart rate decline.
Within 12 hours, the level of poisonous carbon monoxide in your body from
cigarettes has returned to normal.
Over the next few months, your lungs will regain their ability to remove
pollutants efficiently, thereby reducing your risk of infection. Your ability
to taste and smell will improve, and that chronic sinus congestion should
By the first anniversary of your last cigarette, your risk of heart disease should be about half of a smoker's.
(By your 15th anniversary, it should be about the same as the risk for someone
who never smoked.)
And within a decade, your risk of dying from lung
cancer will have dropped by half. It will never drop as low as the
risk faced by those who have never smoked, but it will come pretty close.
Another benefit of quitting also begins immediately, says Norman Edelman,
MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. "As soon as you
take a shower and change your clothes, you stop smelling," he tells
"You may cough more, but that shouldn't be a concern because it means
you're clearing the gunk out of your lungs and opening your airways," says
Edelman. "In a few weeks you should begin to notice an increase in your
The Extreme Makeover
Michael K. Cummings, PhD, has spent 20 years studying the harmful effects of
tobacco. He calls quitting "the extreme makeover."
"If you quit smoking early enough, by 30 or so, your risk
of dying prematurely becomes almost the same as someone who never smoked,"
says Cummings, chairman of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute's department of
health behavior in Buffalo, N.Y. "If you wait another decade, the benefits
are about half of what they would have been. If you quit [then] you add eight
to 10 years to your life."