How to quit smoking

21 October 2021

We’ve all felt more aware of our health and wellbeing over the last few months. And with smoking being the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK, there’s never been a better time to give it up. Tobacco use is currently responsible for 76,000 deaths every year, according to the NHS – but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We’ll cover some helpful tips on how to quit smoking, the benefits you’ll notice when you stop smoking and what to expect when you decide to give up the habit.

What are the benefits of quitting smoking?

Quitting may not be the easiest thing in the world, but you can experience so many health and lifestyle benefits when you stop smoking. You can expect to

  • Breathe easier. The NHS report that giving up smoking can improve lung capacity by up to 10% within 9 months.
  • Feel more energised. It’s common to have more energy after quitting smoking. Within just 2 to 12 weeks, your blood circulation improves and activities such as running, and walking feel much easier.
  • Improve your immune system. Quitting will help boost your immune system making it easier to fight off colds and flu. The increase in oxygen can also reduce tiredness and headaches.
  • Feel less stressed. While the act of quitting smoking can feel stressful, people’s stress levels after they quit.
  • Improve your smell and taste. Quitting cigarettes give your senses of smell and taste a boost and you may even notice that food tastes different as your mouth and nose recover from the toxic chemicals.
  • Cut your risk of cancer and other diseases. Those who quit smoking reduce their risk of lung cancer by 30% to 50% after 10 years according to the National Cancer Institute. The risk of heart and lung disease can also be greatly reduced.
  • Live longer. Men who quit smoking by the age of 30 add 10 years to their life and people who stop at 60 add three years – so it’s never too late to benefit from quitting.
  • Reduce your life insurance premiums. Life insurance is more expensive for smokers compared to non-smokers. Provided you meet our definition of a non-smoker you could be eligible to apply for a new policy after 12 months nicotine-free as a non-smoker.
  • Save money. According to the Office for National Statistics, the average smoker can save £2,653.55 a year by quitting.

Tips to quit smoking

Everyone’s quitting journey is different. But there are some great tips to help boost your chances of stubbing out for good.

  • Remember your reasons. Pinning down your reason for quitting can be a great motivator. Whether it’s to improve your health, protect those around you, or save money, choose a reason strong enough to outweigh the urge to start up again.
  • Be prepared. There’s more to quitting than just throwing your cigarettes in the bin. Make sure you’ve got support first. Talk to your doctor, download quit-smoking apps, try counselling, medication and even hypnosis – you don’t have to do this on your own.
  • Try nicotine replacements. Once you stop smoking, nicotine withdrawal is likely to give you some headaches. But trying nicotine gum, lozenges and patches could help improve your chances of resisting the urge to light up again.
  • Talk to your loved ones. Let those closest to you know you’re trying to quit as they can encourage and motivate you to keep going.
  • Go easy on yourself. One reason many people smoke is because it helps them relax, so it’s time to find new ways to wind down. You could take up exercise, treat yourself to a massage or start a new hobby.
  • Avoid alcohol and other triggers. Some people find drinking makes it harder to quit, so try to limit your alcohol intake when you first stop – the same goes for any other triggers, like coffee for example.
  • Get active. Becoming more active can help stop nicotine cravings and ease some withdrawal symptoms. Instead of lighting up, take the dog for another walk, take yourself outside and do some gardening, or go for a run. You could even invest in some wearable tech to keep track of and improve your fitness.
  • Eat well. Don’t diet while you give up smoking as too much deprivation can backfire. Instead, make sure you’re eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein – they’re good for your whole body.
  • Reward yourself. You’ll likely be saving so much money by quitting. So why not make your own ’stop smoking money box’? Put the money you would have spent on cigarettes to one side, and then treat yourself to something nice with some of the savings.

What changes happen in the body after you quit?

Despite the withdrawal side effects, quitting smoking can have positive effects on your body almost straight away, and you’ll keep seeing changes over time:

  • After 20 mins: Your pulse rate returns to normal
  • After 8 hours: Oxygen levels start to recover and harmful carbon monoxide levels in your blood will have reduced by half
  • After 48 hours: All carbon monoxide will be gone, your lungs will be clearing out mucus and your sense of taste and smell start improving
  • After 72 hours: Breathing may feel easier as your bronchial tubes start to relax and your energy will be increasing
  • After 2 to 12 weeks: Your circulation improves
  • After 3 to 9 months: Any coughs, wheezing or breathing problems will be improving as your lung function increases by up to 10%
  • After 1 year: Your risk of heart attack is halved compared to a smoker’s
  • After 10 years: Your risk of death from lung cancer is half that of a smoker’s

What to expect when you quit smoking

It’s difficult to predict how long it will take to quit smoking as everyone’s experiences, motivations and methods differ. But to increase your chances, there are some things to be prepared for before you start. And remember withdrawal is only temporary, with will power anyone can quit smoking.

  • Cravings. After you quit, you will most likely have to deal with cravings. Each one lasts around 15 to 20 minutes and can happen regularly.
  • Fatigue. You may notice that you feel tired when you quit smoking. This is because nicotine is a stimulant so you won’t be getting that quick kick a cigarette gives you.
  • Appetite. As cigarettes suppress appetite, you may find yourself eating more after you quit, and putting on weight as a result.
  • Feeling unwell. As the nicotine leaves your body, you may develop a cough, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and constipation, but these should all ease in time.
  • Anxiety and depression. Other signs of withdrawal can manifest in other ways, such as heightened anxiety and feelings of depression, as well as some irritability and mental fog. Make sure you talk to your doctor if you feel you need extra support.

Can you get help to stop smoking?

It’s never easy to quit a long-term habit, but you don’t have to do it alone. The British Lung Foundation suggests you are three times more likely to quit if you use a combination of stop smoking treatments and specialist help.

Take a look at the NHS website, who offer a range of services to help you find the best way to give up smoking.

Smoking and life insurance

It’s important never to lie about smoking when taking out life insurance, as you may find yourself without cover if anything were to happen. But, once you can confirm that over the last 12 months you have not smoked any cigarettes, cigars, a pipe or used any nicotine replacements, then you may be eligible to reapply for a new Legal & General life insurance policy as a non-smoker and potentially benefit from cheaper premiums – and a much healthier life.