Direct Line magazine

6 reasons to quit smoking

Updated on: 3 November 2022

Close up of a woman's hands, breaking a cigarette in two.

We all know the damage that cigarette smoking can have on our health. But that doesn't make it any easier to stop smoking. Nicotine is such an addictive drug, some smokers feel as though they’d rather risk their health than face giving up.

But here's the thing: When you stop smoking, there's actually more to gain than to lose. So, if you're trying to improve your quality of life, here's some advice on how to stub out cigarettes for good.

How much damage does smoking do?

Let’s look at the facts. According to the NHS, 506,100 people in England were admitted to hospital and 74,600 people died of smoking-related disease in 2020.

16% of all deaths in the UK can be linked to smoking cigarettes. Lung cancer is the most common, but smokers are also likely to develop diseases in their:

  • Mouth
  • Pharynx (upper throat)
  • Nose
  • Larynx (voice box)
  • Oesophagus 
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Stomach
  • Bladder
  • Cervix
  • Kidney

And how's this for a scary statistic: Cancer Research suggests that for every 15 cigarettes you smoke, a DNA change happens, which could cause a cell in your body to become cancerous. They go on to say that smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer, triggering at least 15 different cancer types.

What are the risks of smoking around children?

It's no secret that inhaling second hand smoke is dangerous for children. Yet in 2018, 60% of youngsters aged between 11 and 15 said they'd been exposed to smoking at home or in the car.

The NHS also found that young people are more likely to smoke if they're living with other smokers, as you can see from the statistics below:

  • Living with no smokers - 3% smoke
  • Living with one smoker - 7% smoke
  • Living with two smokers - 12% smoke
  • Living with three or more smokers - 18% smoke

It's not just older children being affected. 9% of mothers who gave birth in 2021/22 were smokers at the time of delivery. This number is falling, year on year, but it’s still a way off the government target of just 6% by the end of 2022.

Smoking during pregnancy is known to cause thousands of premature births, miscarriages and stillbirths every year in the UK.

Is it good for you to cut down on smoking?

Smoking fewer cigarettes is, without doubt, better for you. But you may be surprised at how damaging just a single cigarette can be to your health.

In January 2018, The British Medical Journal published an analysis of 141 studies into the health risks of smoking. The conclusion was that heavy smoking (20 a day) puts you at most risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. 

 However, just a single cigarette a day put men at a 48% higher risk of developing coronary heart disease and made them 25% more likely to have a stroke than those who'd never smoked. 

For women, the figures were even higher, at 57% for heart disease and 31% for stroke.

The study concluded: "No safe level of smoking exists for cardiovascular disease. Smokers should aim to quit instead of cutting down to significantly reduce their risk of these two common major disorders."

Cutting down can, however, help you in your journey to quit eventually.

Giving up smoking – your questions answered

Unfortunately, stopping smoking isn't as easy as crushing the cigarettes and moving on with life. But like everything you work hard for, the rewards are worth reaping.

Here’s some tips to get help you on your way.

Q1. Where do I start?

First of all, you've got to really want to stop smoking if you're going to be successful. Others will be there to offer help and support, but the only person who can make it happen is you.

A good starting point is choosing a motivation to keep in mind when you’re craving a cigarette. Whether it's saving money or thinking about the health of your loved ones at home, make a list of all the ways your life will get better once you stop smoking. 

Aim for three benefits. Although, once you start thinking about it, we're sure you'll be able to think of loads more. Here’s a list of six motivations to get you started:

  1. Save money: a pack of 20 cigarettes now costs over £12 (or more, depending on your brand). If you’re a 20-a-day smoker, you’d be able to save over £360 a month (£4320 a year). Think of the exciting things you could do with that money instead!
  2. Improve your health: According to The NHS the health benefits of giving up smoking start after just 20 minutes, and if you can stay off cigarettes for 28 days, you’re five times more likely to give up for good. Download the free NHS Quit Smoking app to help you stay strong. 
  3. Improve your mental health: Giving up cigarettes can boost your mood, relieve stress and reduce anxiety and depression. Evidence suggests that stopping smoking can be as effective as taking antidepressants.
  4. Higher energy levels: After 2-3 weeks, after the carbon monoxide has left your body, you should start to feel more energetic. This is because more oxygen is getting into your bloodstream.
  5. Improve your sex life and fertility: Not only do people report a better sex life after they quit smoking, but giving up will also boost your fertility, if you’re trying to conceive. Smoking (even passive smoking) is linked to reduced fertility, sperm abnormalities and quality of the womb lining.
  6. Get better sleep: Smokers are four times more likely to feel tired after a night’s sleep, most likely because nicotine cravings interfere with your natural sleeping patterns and cause insomnia. 

It's also worth telling your GP that you want to stop smoking. He or she will be able to give you some handy tips and help you with the initial withdrawal symptoms.

Q2. What are the withdrawal symptoms of stopping smoking?

It varies with each person, but there a few common symptoms smokers experience when they stop.

While your body is recovering from nicotine withdrawal, you might feel tired, irritable or frustrated. You may also find it harder to fall asleep or concentrate.

But it's important to remember this is only temporary. Once your body gets used to the lack of nicotine in your system, the cravings and negative feelings will pass.

Q3. Do I need a prescription for nicotine replacement products?

It depends. Some people believe it's better to cut out nicotine altogether, while others combat the initial withdrawals using supplemental products to provide a fix.

As for whether you'll need medical consultation for these products or not, it'll vary. Some require a prescription from a doctor, while others can be bought over the counter. Talk to your GP as a first step and find out what’s best for you.

Q4. Will I gain weight when I stop smoking?

Your appetite will certainly be increased once you stop smoking, so you might find yourself snacking more often. While this could result in weight gain, you'll also find you have more energy to exercise. It's surprising how much more active you become when you quit smoking.

Q5. What if I slip and have a cigarette?

It can happen. And naturally, you might feel annoyed with yourself. But don't let it derail you completely. Instead of punishing yourself for slipping off the wagon, just dust yourself off and keep making strides to cut smoking out of your life.

Q6. I’m pregnant and my partner smokes. Will it hurt my unborn baby?

It could do, yes. If someone smokes around you, you'll be exposed to harmful toxins that could have a negative impact on your health as well as the health of your unborn baby. It’s called ‘second hand’ or passive smoking, and has been linked to heart defects and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). For more advice, check out the NHS website.

Q7. Do smokers pay more for life insurance?

Yes. Smokers tend to pay a higher premium for life insurance as they’re at a greater risk of experiencing ill health, suffering from coronary heart disease, having a stroke or being diagnosed with cancer. As a result, they’re also more likely to die younger. So, by stopping smoking, you could reduce your premium as well as improve your health. 

There are many reasons to give up smoking and live a healthier life, but it will take time and support from friends, family and even your GP. Joining a local support group will help get you through the tough times and reach your goal.

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