Giving up smoking

Effects of not smoking

When people stop smoking, they can experience a wide range of physical and psychological effects and benefits. Sometimes these effects are well-established physiological changes - such as wheezing less or being less short of breath. People also made changes in their lives in connection with giving up smoking – such as focussing more on their health and well-being.
Seeing measured improvements can be very motivating. Those who had attended clinics were sometimes given lung function tests such as spirometry or peak flow tests. Raf said that even after a few days of not smoking the test results were dramatically improved. Blood pressure also tends to improve when people give up smoking – as Neil found when he gave up smoking and joined a gym.

Breath of fresh air

People often noticed they could breathe more easily, had a better sense of smell and taste, and felt the difference in their lung capacity when walking or playing sports. Peter started running at the same time as he gave up smoking and found his fitness improved.
People also sometimes realised how unpleasant it was to smell smoke on others and regretted that non-smokers (especially children) had had to put up with the smell of their smoking in the past.
Other effects of quitting

The effects people felt when they quit smoking were often highly individual and depended on things that were happening in their lives at the time they quit.

Giving up smoking often accompanied other lifestyle changes, such as taking more exercise. Smokers sometimes felt that while they were still smoking there was not much point in making an effort to look after their health in other ways, although others tried to mitigate the damage, for example by eating healthily.
People talked about the effect that giving up smoking had had on the rest of their lives. Judith said that giving up smoking was one of the biggest achievements in her life as she had really struggled to give up. Many people felt proud of themselves and thought that giving up smoking had had a big effect on how they felt in themselves – both physically and mentally.
People sometimes noticed that their health seemed to get worse in the short term after stopping smoking and some wondered if sleepless nights or a cough or cold might be caused by toxins leaving the body. Some people noticed some constipation for a while after giving up. Abdul had insomnia when he quit smoking cannabis and Bethan’s sleep was disturbed when she stopped smoking tobacco; insomnia can also be a side effect of taking bupropion (Zyban). Andrew and Laura found they had a cough for a while after quitting.
People appreciated many other effects of giving up smoking. Caroline noticed she didn’t have a yellow tongue, and Laura and Gareth both felt better able to look after their teeth. Angela noticed that her skin had already become softer and smoother after a few weeks and Bethan noticed that when she sang she could hold notes longer. People did not miss having yellowed, nicotine stained fingers or having smelly hair, clothes and homes.

A few people had not yet noticed any particular positive effects since stopping. Angela had put on some weight at the same time as giving up smoking, so believed that may have made her feel out of breath. However she noticed that she could now smell her perfume. Bethan felt more stressed but didn’t know if this was because she had quit smoking or because her job was difficult. Khan thought that, although he felt stronger, he was also more irritable and quick-tempered.

(Also see ‘Life events and their effect on people’s motivation to stop smoking’ and ‘Help from pharmacists, GPs and Nicotine Replacement Therapies’).

Weight gain

It is not uncommon for people to gain some weight when they first give up smoking and we talked to people who had certainly noticed this, although the reason was not always clear. Munir, for example, said that since his food now tasted better he was eating more.
Concerns about weight gain put some people off trying to give up; weight gain sometimes contributed to people starting to smoke again. Carol and Tam had both gained weight but felt that weight loss was their next project after having given up smoking. Caroline started to watch what she ate as she initially gained ten pounds after quitting smoking.
Gareth noticed that he put on a bit of weight but said that, compared to the health risks of smoking this was hardly relevant: ‘ I think people are really scared to put on weight, but when you hold it up against lung cancer, being a bit overweight, it’s a no brainer really’.

But not everyone gains weight when they stop smoking. For example, Blodwen, Sarah and Laura said they didn’t put on any weight on at all. Laura started going to the gym when she gave up and her body shape changed for the better. Lisa said that she actually lost weight when she stopped smoking – partly because it gave her the confidence and motivation to look after herself better and eat better food.
A number of people talked about the money they had saved by quitting.

(Also see ‘Money and Smoking’ and ‘Being a non-smoker’)

Last reviewed August 2018.

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