Giving up smoking

Appearance and physical health affects of smoking

Here people talk about how smoking affects physical appearance and health. Some people seem to avoid any ill effects from smoking, especially if they give up when they are reasonably young, or are never heavy smokers. Everyone seems to know of a lucky person who lives to a ripe old age despite smoking and drinking much of their lives, but people we talked to were well aware that these are highly unusual examples. Blodwen, who smoked for many years, noticed no bad effects from smoking and eventually gave up more for financial reasons than because of her health.


Both men and women were very aware of the negative effects of smoking on people’s appearance. Seeing smokers who looked much older than they were (Mariam mentioned a heavy smoker who was in her 50s but looked over 80) was sometimes a powerful motivator to stop while still fairly young. Wrinkles, nicotine-stained fingers, yellow teeth and bad breath do not appeal; some realised that if they found other smokers unattractive, they might also be unattractive to non-smokers. Angela said her teeth were getting “horrible”, and that her fingers were stained. Cassie said she didn’t want to end up looking like her mum, who has smoked for years.
Minor ailments

Everyone gets coughs and colds but many smokers feel more prone to minor infections and that when they do get them take longer to recover. People said they had a ‘smokers’ cough’, regularly coughed up phlegm or had a nasty taste in their mouth on waking, especially after smoking a lot.
Andrew used to have constant ‘coughs and colds’ once he quit he recovered from them more quickly. Munir used to wake up in the night with ‘slime’ in his mouth, and Haseen said that he had phlegm and stomach acid.

Some people said they had felt OK when they were smoking but noticed a cough when they gave up - Laura said that the only ill effect she experienced from over ten years of smoking was the cough that started soon after she stopped.

Physical activity and sports

We talked to people who had been enthusiastic sportsmen and women while they were smokers. Some, like Haseen, looked back on this as a rather strange contradiction in their lives but others, knowing that smoking was bad for their health, tried to do what they could to balance this with a lifestyle that involved exercise and a healthy diet.

John had sporting role models who ran marathons and were smokers. John himself used to play hockey and found that at the time smoking "didn’t affect him much". Munir and Khan thought that they must have been quite physically healthy as they regularly played cricket.

Others began to realise that smoking was taking a toll on their abilities. Some found that even minor exertion could leave them feeling out of breath. Angela pointed out that when you are young you seem to feel no ill effects from smoking “But as you start getting older… you’re out of breath when you’ve just walked round. That’s when it becomes a health issue I think, as you get older”. Jules noticed that he was getting out of breath doing simple things like running up the stairs.

When people gave up smoking they often made other changes in their lives at the same time, such as taking up sport or facing health issues more seriously. For example, Tom decided to address his diet, exercise, smoking and cannabis all at the same time.

(Also see ‘Being a non-smoker’ and ‘Effects of not smoking’).

​Last reviewed August 2018.


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