Quitting Cigarettes, Cigars and Chewing Tobacco: What You Need to Know

Each cigarette smoked reduces the smoker’s lifespan by 11 minutes, which means that for every carton of cigarettes smoked, a smoker loses a day and a half of life. The average smoker cuts his lifespan by ten to 12 years. The death rate of smokers is two to three times higher than that of non-smokers.

When tobacco is burned in a cigarette, it breaks down and releases toxins that the smoker inhales. Carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances, such as tar, and other dangerous substances, such as carbon monoxide, are released and enter the body. The damage caused by these toxins leads to cardiovascular disease, cancers, stroke, and other diseases. Smoking causes ninety percent of lung cancer cases and bladder, esophageal, kidney, pancreatic, and cervical cancers are more common in smokers than in non-smokers. Smoking causes 80 percent of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which includes conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Lung function declines due to COPD, causing difficulty breathing and an eventual death.

Smokers are vulnerable to cardiovascular disease because they experience hardening and narrowing of the arteries at an accelerated rate and are two to four times more likely to experience a blood clot. Thirty percent of heart attacks are caused by smoking, which occur when a blood clot forms in an artery leading to the heart. Smokers develop coronary thrombosis, which leads to heart attacks, on average ten years earlier than non-smokers. Depending on which blood vessels are affected, smokers can suffer stroke, paralysis, kidney failure, gangrene, and even amputation.

Smoking related illnesses cause over 440,000 deaths each year in the United States. Lung cancer caused by smoking kills nearly 129,000 Americans, cardiovascular disease attributable to smoking kills 126,000, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) kills nearly 93,000. Stroke, other cancers, such as larynx, kidney, and pancreatic cancers, and other smoking-related diseases kill 95,000 Americans each year.

Smokers are more likely to experience infertility, cataracts, periodontal disease, ulcers, and impotence than non-smokers and are twice as likely to develop macular degeneration, which causes the loss of vision. For pregnant women, smoking doubles the risk of giving birth to a low-birth weight baby and heightens the risk of preterm delivery, which can result in immediate health problems for her baby, as well as long-term conditions such as cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. Smoking also doubles the risk of placental problems, such as placenta previa and placental abruption, which can endanger the mother’s life.

Quitting smoking improves a former smoker’s general health: tiredness and headaches are reduced, heat rate, blood pressure, and carbon monoxide levels drop, lung function increases, circulation improves, and the risks of coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer gradually drop. Quitting smoking offers economic benefits as well: pack-a-day smokers spend $1,600 per year or more on cigarettes and former smokers do not need to pay insurance premiums for tobacco users.

Quitting is difficult, even when smokers know the health and economic benefits of quitting. Smoking is an addiction with both physical and psychological components. Nicotine produces feelings of pleasure in the brain. Smokers must consume more nicotine to maintain their mood and energy, and withdrawal from nicotine may result in fatigue, jitters, and depressed mood. Smoking is also a psychological addiction, or habit. Smoking habits, such as smoking while drinking coffee or while driving, become triggers that cause a cigarette craving.

Although quitting is hard work, there are many resources to help smokers quit. Making a quit plan and understanding the options for quitting are important steps on the road to becoming tobacco-free. The information contained below can help smokers find the resources and support they need to quit for good.

Why Quit Smoking?

Smoking cigarettes is the number one cause of premature death in the United States: one third of American smokers, over 15 million people, will die prematurely because of smoking. Over 250 of the 4,000 ingredients in cigarettes are harmful and 69, such as acetone, ammonia, arsenic, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and benzene.

Smoking is also a leading cause of preventable death: by quitting, smokers can put years back on their life and improve their health. The immediate benefits of quitting include increased lung function, less mucus and coughing, better breath and whiter teeth, and improved sense of smell and taste. Over time, the risk of heart attack, stroke, and cancer will drop to that of a non-smoker. The economic benefits of quitting include more than simply saving money spent on cigarettes. Smokers often pay higher health insurance premiums and pay more for life insurance and home insurance. The resale value of smokers’ homes and cars is lower than that of non-smokers, and some private companies financially penalize workers for smoking.

Quitting can also improve the health of your loved ones. Secondhand smoke increases a non-smoker’s risk of contracting lung cancer and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Over 38,000 non-smokers die from diseases attributable to secondhand smoke every year and children are the most vulnerable. Quitting can restore your loved ones’ health as well as your own.

  • Effects of Smoking Cessation: This site includes information on the physical and health effects of quitting smoking that occur over time.
  •  Health Issues: The American Lung Association site gives basic facts on the effects of smoking, details the diseases that smoking causes, and offers resources and reasons for quitting.
  • Smoking and Cancer: The American Cancer Society gives information on the relationship between smoking and different forms of cancer and provides reasons to quit.
  • Smoking and Blindness: Smoking’s link to vision loss and eye disease, including blindness.
  • Reasons to Quit: A list of reasons to quit smoking.
  • Cigarette Ingredients: A short quiz that identifies some of the chemicals found in cigarettes.
  • Benefits of Quitting: Information on the health risks of smoking and the health benefits of quitting, as well as important tips on quitting.
  • Secondhand Smoke: How cigarette smoke affects the health of non-smokers, especially children.
  • Secondhand Smoke: Facts on cigarette smoke’s harmful effects on non-smokers.
  • Smoking Facts: Quick facts on smoking and its effects.
  • Chemicals in Cigarettes: A list of chemicals found in cigarettes and their properties and uses.
  • Social Smoking: The health risks of social smoking.
  • The Cost of Smoking: An evaluation of the economic costs of smoking, including the cost of treating smoking related illnesses.
  • Economic Costs: The health-care and economic burden of smoking and smoking-related illnesses on the nation’s economy.
  • Smoking Related Illnesses: A list and explanation of smoking related illnesses, such as emphysema and lung cancer.


Why is Quitting so Hard?

Smoking is physically and psychologically addictive. Quitting means conquering both the physical cravings and the mental triggers that increase them. When smokers light up, the heat breaks down substances in the cigarette that are then inhaled and travel to the brain. Nicotine, the main addictive ingredient in cigarettes, increases the levels of dopamine in the brain and creates feelings of pleasure. Nicotine also acts as a stimulant, triggering the release of adrenaline, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. Nicotine’s effects last from five minutes to two hours, after which users experience withdrawal symptoms that include anxiety, stress, and headaches. Physical withdrawal symptoms are temporary and weaken over time, although their duration varies from person to person. Physiological withdrawal may last longer and is triggered by habits related to smoking, such as smoking at certain times or in certain places. Changing your lifestyle and habits to avoid smoking triggers can help.

Getting help, counseling, and support from friends, family, professionals, or support groups can make quitting successful. Medication and nicotine replacement therapies in conjunction with phone, individual, or group counseling can increase success rates.

  • Nicotine Addiction: Why nicotine is so addictive and how tobacco use affects the brain and other organs from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Site includes links to more detailed information.
  • Nicotine and Quitting: Information on nicotine and addiction. This site also gives reasons to quit smoking and the health benefits of quitting.
  • Addiction and Withdrawal: Information on nicotine addiction and the effects of withdrawal.
  • Nicotine and the Brain: How nicotine works on the brain.
  • Tobacco Use Disorder: An overview of tobacco addiction and treatment.


Quitting Options

Prescription and non-prescription medications and nicotine-replacement therapies are important tools for smokers who want to quit. Combined with counseling, these drugs can increase a smoker’s chance of success in quitting. Prescription medications, such as Bupropion HCL and Varenicline, do not contain nicotine and are non-addictive. These drugs act on the brain to increase dopamine levels, which lessens withdrawal symptoms. Non-prescription nicotine replacement therapies contain lower doses of nicotine and help a smoker “step down” to being nicotine-free. Nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges are available over the counter, and nicotine inhalers and nasal sprays are available by prescription. Electronic cigarettes are not designed or marketed as smoking cessation devices, although some smokers use them as a nicotine replacement system.


Quitting Tools

Many tools for quitting are available online. These tools help smokers develop a plan to quit smoking and the information and support needed to implement it. Smokers who make a plan that includes a quit date, short- and long-term goals, and rewards can increase their chances of quitting. Support groups and quit help lines also provide counseling and community for smokers trying to quit.

  • Smoking Cessation Tools: This site includes quizzes and information on how to recognize and avoid smoking triggers and how to deal with cravings.
  • Nicotine Anonymous: This site includes information on this support groups’ local meetings, as well as information about how to quit.
  • Quitting Resources: The American Heart Association provides self-assessment quizzes, tips on quitting, and numerous hotlines for help with quitting.
  • Making a Quit Plan: How to make and follow a plan to quit smoking.
  • Live Help: Live online chat with specialists who can help you quit smoking.
  • Quitting Support: Help on making a quit plan. This site also provides videos and social media outlets to support you, including a community forum.
  • Ways to Support Friends and Family: Tips on how to support a friend for family member who wants to quit smoking.
  • Quitting Tips: Tips from a medical doctor on how to successfully quit smoking, including making a plan and reminding yourself of reasons to quit.
  •  Quitting Tips and Resources: Explores why to quit and how to implement either a cold-turkey or gradual step-down plan.
  • Quitting Program: Assess your readiness to quit, explore quitting options, make a plan, and get tips on how to successfully quit smoking.
  • The Cost of Smoking: A quick calculator to determine the amount of money a smoker spends on cigarettes per week, per month, and per year.
  • Games: Online games to play when a craving strikes.
  • Quit Smoking Apps: Applications for smart phones to help smokers quit.