Health: It is Never Too Late to Quit Smoking

When leading experts were writing 'The European Code Against Cancer', there was no question as to which piece of advice would be top of their list...
'Do not smoke; if you smoke, stop doing so.'
And research has shown that there are powerful incentives to quit; within a year of stopping smoking, the risk of a heart attack falls to about half that of a continuing smoker. Within ten years, the risk of lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker. There is even better news for those who manage to give up before they reach middle age. Even if someone has smoked since they were at school, if they quit by the age of 30, then the body can repair most of the damage that has been done to the lungs, and eliminate 90 per cent of the tobacco-related cancer risk. What is less widely known, however, is that quitting later in life also significantly reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease. The level of individual varies according to lifestyle, as well as how long someone has smoked, and how many cigarettes they smoked a day. But even quitting at the age of 50 after 30 years of smoking halves the risk of tobacco-related cancer, and quitting at the age of 65 can still add two years to your lifespan. Professor Mr.Alan Rodger, the medical director of Glasgow's 'Beatson Oncology Centre', says the sooner people stop smoking, the better it will be for their health. But he emphasises it is never too late to quit.
'What we do know is that if you stop smoking in your thirties, and you have been smoking for ten or 15 years, then the benefits start to accrue quite quickly. The risk in terms of reducing your life expectancy has disappeared within about 15 or 20 years. So it has a dramatic effect. 'Within a short period of time, there are benefits. The financial and aesthetic benefits are immediate, but there are also health benefits in terms of your chest, and so on.'
As soon as that last cigarette is stubbed out, the lungs, heart and circulation quickly start to improve their function, and most people will notice a difference in their wellbeing within days or weeks.
'The health benefits start as soon as you stop,' says Ms.Nicky Connor, smoking cessation co-ordinator for 'Kirkcaldy and Levenmouth Community Health Partnership'. 'Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your blood pressure and pulse are back to normal. 'Within eight hours, oxygen levels in your blood have returned to normal. 'Within 24 to 48 hours carbon monoxide is eliminated, and within 48 hours nicotine is no longer detectable in the body. 'Within three days, your energy levels are beginning to increase, and breathing is easier. 'Up to three months, circulation improves throughout the body. 'By nine months your breathing and lung function increases by 5 to 10 per cent. 'Within five years your heart attack risk if half that of a smoker and within ten years your risk of lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker, and the risk of heart attack is about the same as someone who has never smoked. 'The benefits go on for years and years, and it is never too late to stop smoking. 'Lots of people report these benefits.'
Mr.Rodger adds that those who are already ill -- even with serious conditions such as heart disease or cancer -- will benefit from stopping smoking.
'Most people would recommend that someone who has got heart disease stops smoking and the heart will not deteriorate as fast as it would have done, ditto lungs. 'If you have cancer and you stop smoking, it doesn't make the cancer go away, but a smoker with lung cancer who stops smoking is much less likely to get another cancer in the head and neck region, and vice versa. People may be cured of a larynx cancer but then die of lung cancer a few years later.'
Mr.John Bery, a GP in Kirkcaldy, says many patients do not always appreciate how unwell they have become because of their smoking, let alone how much better they could feel if they stopped.
'People who have lung disease don't realise how disabled they are because they are so used to huffing and puffing that they think it's a normal part of their existence.'
Many smokers worry they will put on weight if they stop smoking, and research has shown that ex-smokers gain an average of 2.5_kg after quitting. But a report by the 'Surgeon General of the USA' has found the benefits of stopping smoking far outstrip any impact of carrying a couple of extra kilos. Former tobacco industry scientist Mr.Jeffrey Wigand also questions whether it is inevitable that people will gain weight after quitting cigarettes.
'You don't have to put on weight. It's all about behaviour change. If you poison your tongue every day and destroy your taste buds, then what happens when you stop smoking? You enjoy eating again. 'If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, you are taking "a draw" 200 times a day, so you need to find something else to do with your hands, so maybe you eat sweets. 'And when you first stop, you might find you can't exercise. So what happens? You put on weight.'
Besides changes to physical health, ex-smokers also notice a range of improvements to their quality of life, adds Ms.Nicky Connor.
'On a simpler level, people report that their food tastes better and their sense of smell improves. 'When their circulation improves, people notice a change in the colour of their skin as well.'
After stopping smoking, people can gain confidence from their achievement, as well as no longer worrying about whether their cigarettes are going to run out, or whether their breath smells. And contrary to the popular perception, people find that their stress levels also reduce.
'Some take time out to have a cigarette and a lot of people think that nicotine helps their stress. But the reverse is true. 'People who don't smoke are less stressed. 'It is only when you speak to people who have stopped that they confirm this is the case.'
Unusually for a smoker, Ms.Jean Johnston, a 73-year-old pensioner from Edinburgh, began smoking in middle age, after her children left home and she had more disposable income. But, after 20 years of smoking, she noticed it was having an effect on her health and decided to give up. Using nicotine gum, and then ordinary chewing gum, she managed to give up three months ago and is already feeling better.
'I started smoking because I thought it was a toss-up between a black lung and a fat bum, and I always liked smoking,' she says. 'I'd always had bags of energy, but then I noticed the smoking was slowing me down, and I couldn't jive at the club with my friends like I used to; I had an awful cough. 'Now that I've given up, I am back "bombing around" again, doing all the things that I used to do.'
And perhaps one of the most inspiring stories about someone who has quit smoking is that of Mr.Richard Doll, the man who first linked smoking to lung cancer. Until he was 37, he had smoked a packet of cigarettes a day. When he died in 2005-07, it was at the ripe old age of 92. Not long before he died, he said:
'If you enjoy life like I do, then it is damn silly to smoke because you are simply not going to have as much of it.'
  • After 20 minutes: Pulse rate and blood pressure return to normal.
  • After 8 hours: Nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in blood reduce by half, and oxygen levels return to normal.
  • After 24 hours: Carbon monoxide will be eliminated from the body. Lungs start to clear out mucus and other smoking debris.
  • After 48 hours: There is no nicotine left in the body and the ability to taste and smell is improved.
  • After 72 hours: Breathing is easier and energy levels increase.
  • After 2 to 12 weeks: Circulation improves.
  • After 3 to 9 months: Lung function improved by 10 per cent
  • After a year: Heart attack risk falls to half that of a smoker.
  • After ten years: Risk of developing lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker.
  • After 15 years: Risk of a heart attack falls to the same as someone who has never smoked.
  • For women of childbearing age, quitting smoking will increase the chance of conceiving. Women who smoker reduce their chances of becoming pregnant by anything up to 40 per cent each menstrual cycle.
  • Not smoking during pregnancy will also reduce the risk of miscarriage, premature labour and having a low-birthweight baby.
  • Women who smoke cigarettes are around twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as non-smokers are.
  • Giving up cigarettes will lessen your risk of suffering from osteoporosis later in life.
  • Stopping smoking improves the circulation, and so reduces the risk of impotence. Smoking increases impotence by up to 50 per cent among men in their thirties and forties.
  • Giving up smoking will reduce your risk of infertility -- smoking increases the number of malformed sperm.
'It is never too late to give up smoking and feel the benefit ', Jennifer Veitch, The Scotsman, 2005-10-06, Th Links: Scottish Exec smoking in public places consulation Scottish Executive tobacco control action plan ASH Scotland FOREST


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