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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.
 

Haseen noticed being able to breathe more easily, being less irritable and having fewer problems with his digestion.

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Age at interview: 46
Sex: Male
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Yes, I feel a lot more, honestly, I can actually breathe. Because before this I never realised I had short breath. So now I can feel it. My breath is coming back in a much better way. I am able to, you know, I have full breaths, almost full breaths again. And, and also the acidity has gone. I don’t have any more acidity. And also I should say I’m less irritable. I used to be really irritable, very fast, when I was smoking I used to get irritable. I’m less irritable. Able to think in a more relaxed, and a clear manner. Not jumping to conclusions or getting the hang of you. So a little bit more clarity I would say now, in the thinking process.
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.
 

Looking back Andy can see that giving up after 15 years of smoking has improved his health and lung capacity but it was not immediately apparent.

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Age at interview: 31
Sex: Male
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Is one of these funny things, that whenever, whenever you say you’ve given up smoking to somebody I often find its non smokers that say this, they’re saying, “Oh don’t you feel better in yourself?” And it’s like, well no, no, not really [laughs]. My wallet feels a bit better, but other than that I never really sort of noticed any difference. I think because possibly because it was a gradual thing. I think I did notice going, I’d be less, slightly less out of breath going upstairs perhaps but I didn’t feel any sort of sense of well being necessarily. But I definitely know it now, since I’ve, you know, I’ve given up for a long time. Sort of intermittent bits of exercise here and there were a lot easier in… When it’s cold outside as well, that’s another thing, a positive impact you notice. Your chest doesn’t hurt as much breathing in, because you notice the cold air when you breathe in as a smoker, you feel it on your lungs, on your chest, and that’s much less so. In fact it doesn’t, it doesn’t really happen now and I think it was , and that’s, that’s a massive positive effect. And as well, the cold thing as well. I think I still, I think I still do get the odd, the odd chesty cold might hang around a little bit longer than may be normally it would if I hadn’t smoked, spent about fifteen years smoking, I suspect. But, but it’s nowhere near as pronounced as it was when I was smoking. And it was ultimately, you know, it is a positive thing.
 

After giving up smoking for only a couple of weeks, Jules already felt the difference in his lung capacity. He felt good that he could say no to a cigarette.

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Male
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I used to find I used to do the kiting and I used to be able to run around the field with my kite, getting up…. As a smoker there was this slippery hill that getting up the hills I’d be out of breath. After a couple of weeks of not smoking I was getting up that hill, and I’d be panting, but I wouldn’t be out of breath. So that was the first sort of time, I actually thought smoking is absolutely, not smoking does, you know, I feel better for not smoking. So I was sort of aware straight away of the benefits. That I, the bad things about not smoking is... I remember sort of there would be times when you know, people would feel powerful for actually smoking. You know, a couple of my friends that didn’t smoke would excuse themselves so they could satisfy their craving for a smoke, I don’t smoke it’s great.

At times I wanted a cigarette as our friends used to come into my home, you know a non smoker, or I am a non smoker and I’d be a non-smoker for the rest of my life so that’s why I don’t know I can’t remember if the hypnotist has worked or not because that phrase has stuck in my head.
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.
 

Caroline didn’t feel the ‘rattling’ in her chest at night, and had a heightened sense of smell. She has noticed the smell of other people smoking much more since quitting.

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
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You said you felt so much better. What have you noticed?

First of all when I’m laying in bed, there’s none of the rattling on my chest. I’m sure I almost used to feel my blood pressure, I presume it was really high from smoking, you lay in bed and you could almost feel your heart pounding in your ears, so all of that’s gone. When I walk my dog, I can now run [laughs]. Not sort of miles, but before hand, I mean I’d just be puffing and panting after sort of few steps, but now I can run quite a long way with the dog.

It’s, I’ve got grandchildren, so it’s quite nice. I haven’t got to worry about having a full load of mints before they come, and I can cuddle then knowing that I’m not making them smell of smoke. Which is actually quite important to me, although I didn’t realise how much I smelt until I stopped smoking, and I now smell it on other people. I can go in a room where someone who’s had a cigarette, if they go into a room and then I follow them into the room, I can still smell it, even though they smoked outside.

My husband smokes and I can, if I’m coming down the path and he’s in the back garden having a cigarette, I can actually smell the stale smell. I can smell it in the toilet [laughs] wherever he’s been in a small space, I can smell it. Which as I say I didn’t notice before. You can be walking along the road, and you know that somebody has been standing there having a cigarette a minute beforehand.

So it’s nice to know that I can have the children near me, and not worry about me smelling for them really. I can smell the shampoo on my hair still. So when I wash my hair it sort of still smells of shampoo a few days later, whereas beforehand I couldn’t smell anything.
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.
 

After stubbing out her last cigarette, Lisa felt a sense of freedom and relief. Later she started to do more exercise.

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Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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Yes, well instantly. Instantly you feel free as you, as you stubbing out your last cigarette. The sense of accomplishment and freedom is wonderful and the relief. Just the biggest feeling is the relief that you haven’t got to do it anymore. Because it’s like being a slave. You have to do it. This pack of cigarettes. You have to at certain points during the day, go and have one. You have to find time for them. They’re quite demanding. And they don’t demand anything from you once you’ve stopped. I wouldn’t go to the cinema because a film that was two hours long, well I’d be thinking but I need to have a cigarette in the middle and you can see people nipping out between courses at a restaurant for a cigarette and they’re not relaxed. They think it’s relaxing them, but they’re not relaxing, because they’re rushing out to go and smoke.

Yeah, the relief, and when I look at, even now, twelve years later, and I’ll notice someone in the street who’s smoking and I just think, thank God I haven’t got to do that anymore. And I still feel it now. Oh. It’s amazing. I probably didn’t do much exercise, however, because, when I was a smoker, because I just thought, what’s the point. I’m a smoker, you know, that’s the worst thing I can do to my body, or one of the worst things I can do to my body. Why try and be healthier and eat healthy and do exercise when I’m a smoker. What’s the point? So it made me, it had I don’t know, it had this ripple effect, it made me make bad choices in other areas of my life, kind of. You know, yeah.
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.
 
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As a result of giving up smoking, Mariam felt ‘free’, brighter, healthier and less tired.

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
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You wake up and all of a sudden you don’t, you know, you wake up and you want to do a lot of things. You want to plan a lot of things and you feel brighter, healthier, this constantly this lethargic feeling, has just gone, as if you were carrying a whole lot of like 12 camel lot of things. And then you left them and you feel free. That kind of feeling. As if you’re carrying a burden and you left it.

So you definitely notice the difference in the tiredness?

Yes, definitely, definitely and then either you get progressive, after months of “wow, months I’m all right yes”. And you feel it physically. You feel it different, you can feel more energy. That’s the first thing for me. I have more energy to do things. And mentally yes. Mentally I feel all right, and it’s only a few times when this thing happen. The thought because it was habit, yes, the thought comes like, oh I want to have a cigarette, and I say, “All right.” But you’re not going to have it.
 

After she gave up smoking Anna’s hangovers were less severe, and she didn’t get as many throat infections.

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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I think again, I didn’t, I never had that sort of oh it’s going to be, you know, people keep saying this thing about oh you know, it makes you feel so much better, immediately and stuff…. But I do remember feeling like it was something I just didn’t want to tell me, people that discovered that you like… I remember one time I discovered that I could just drink so much more alcohol without feeling hung over. And it started to feel like Wonder woman. You know, so, go out at night, drink all this beer and wake up and feel really good in the morning. And I thought okay, so actually these hangovers were sort of quite, quite a lot of it was nicotine induced rather than, you know, just the alcohol, but then that wears off after a while, which was a strange phenomenon. That you don’t have that any more in the same… well in what my experience it wore off. So I think that was a really positive [laughs] it made me feel wow this is really good. This is good. Not that, you know, I’m advocating and then drinking a lot. But you suddenly realised just what it was doing to you.

And I suppose, as I say I used to, I mean I was really, really prone to getting throat infections and tonsillitis and all that sort of thing, and I think that, I could always tell that that’s no longer such a problem if I didn’t smoke.
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.
 

Angela said she felt terrible for the first six weeks after giving up smoking; she thought this might be because she was getting rid of toxins. Her sense of smell improved and she gained some unwelcome weight.

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Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
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It’s great. Apart from weight. It’s great to think I don’t smell. And I can smell my own perfume which you can’t before [laugh] and my hair doesn’t smell anymore and my clothes and that’s nice. I like that.

What other changes have you noticed after you’d given up smoking?

You’re probably not going to like this, but I felt terrible for about six weeks. Terrible. I haven’t coughed, no. People said that you cough stuff. The cough things. Well I haven’t done anything like that. I’ve never really been, had a cough when I smoked and I haven’t done anything like that but I’ve felt terrible, as though I could sleep for ever, I couldn’t do this, I just, just generally don’t feel very well. But I’m just coming out of that now where I feel a bit better.

I don’t know people have said that its, all toxins, all the badness coming of you and things like that, but I haven’t felt very well. It’s not you’ve stopped smoking you feel great. Because you don’t. I’m only just starting and that’s like four months. Three months, four months, I can’t remember. Starting to feel all right.
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.
 

After quitting smoking Keith put on just over a stone, but his lungs felt better.

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
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In terms of physical, how I feel since the, since giving up smoking. I checked on my weight and I put on just over a stone in the year since packing up smoking but I’m consciously attacking that now and trying to cut back on things and bring my weight down and indeed it is coming back down again now so…

And I mean that was also tied in with other things. I had knee problems so I couldn’t get about as much. I was more sedentary anyway and so I think the two connected but the knee is getting better now, so I can move around more at the same time that I’m doing a bit more exercise and eating less I suppose. But feeling much better for it, and my lungs are clearer. I don’t get that sort of claggy feeling in the morning which was very disgusting.
 

Bethan has given up twice and both times she gained weight. She wonders whether her hay fever and Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are also affected by smoking.

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
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Everybody else is just absolutely amazed that I’ve given up. Which I suppose in another way thinks oh great I’ve shown them that I’ll give up. You know, because people have said, “You’ll never give up Bethan, you’ll never give up.” But I only gave up previously. That was in 2000. And I gave up for twelve months and I was like the side of a bus. I’m not small anyway, but I tripled in size.

But that doesn’t bother me the weight. I mean yes, it does. But you know, because I think oh gosh I’ve put all this weight on. But I haven’t actually, my clothes still fit me, I think it’s just me thinking that I’m putting all this weight on. And of course, because of the summer and the weather, I haven’t done much exercise [laughs] so that hasn’t helped.

And I it’s funny, because after giving up smoking I found that I suffered with hay fever, which I’ve never suffer with hay fever in my life before, and then I’ve been diagnosed with IBS and I’m thinking, oh good God, since I’ve given up smoking I’m getting all these sort of, you know, illnesses. And I’m thinking, I did have a little think, is it worth it. Should I go back smoking? I thought no don’t be silly.
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.
 

Chris has put on over a stone in weight after quitting. She found she snacked a bit more after quitting but thought that didn’t account for all the weight she gained.

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
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The only thing that smoking’s done for me which I don’t like, is made me put on over a stone in weight. And I always said if it makes me put weight on I’ll smoke again. I’ve always been quite slim and all my clothes are a 8-10, and now they’re a 12-14. I’ve started having to buy and that I don’t like, because I like my clothes that I had. Okay, yes, I’m 65, but I don’t like old fashioned clothes and I like to be reasonably modern but not over the top, and a lot of my things now I can’t get into. Yes, that’s a down side. But I don’t know why because I don’t eat loads. In fact they’ve given me the Fortisip drinks you know, with all the vitamins in. I have them on prescription because I’m not getting any vitamins and that. But I’m still, well I’ve still put weight on.

I think it’s, I don’t know. I don’t know whether it’s something to do with something to happens to your body when you stop smoking, that makes you put that weight on, I don’t know. But it did. It did make me put weight on.

Some of the people that I’ve spoken to have experienced exactly the same thing and said that they sort of replaced food, you know, replaced smoking with food, so that when they reached for a cigarette they’d reach for a snack instead, to sort of keep their hands busy?

Yes. I do, I must admit I do snack. Before I stopped smoking I’d have one meal a day. Now that really hasn’t changed because that’s the way we’ve always been. We have it at about 7 o’clock at night. But now I’m not smoking I do tend to…. I’ve got the chewing gum but it’s sugar free. I don’t, I’ve cut the sugar right out completely because of my weight, but I do have a bag of crisps in the day, may be two bags of crisps. I don’t eat many biscuits or sweet things. But I do buy mints when I’m walking the dog, I take a handful of mints out with me. And I can’t see, you know, that they would put that much weight on. You know, and then I have a meal at night. But even that meal at night, if, I still can’t eat it all, and I don’t have a large meal, it’s just a small meal. I go, “Oh take some off, I can’t eat all that.” You know. And I, I you know, very rare I finish a meal. I don’t know. I don’t know whether it’s something in your body decides to work when you’re not smoking or stop work when you’re not smoking. I don’t know. Because for some unknown reason I just piled the weight on, and you know, and I feel fat, you know. I go out with my daughter you know, and she’ll say, “Oh that looks nice Mum.” And I go, “Yes, it’s a fat 14.” She goes “oh, Mum? You’re not fat.” I said, “Yes, but I’m not thin either. You know, I’m going to buy bigger clothes and I don’t like it.” And she says, “No but you look well.” And even the doctors she said, I said, “I’m a bit worried about the weight.” She said, “I tell you what Chris.” She said, “You’re looking good. I don’t know what you’re worried about.” I was like, “Well I just know I’m getting fat. And that’s it. End of.”
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.
 

Sarah worried about putting on weight, and this initially put her off trying to stop smoking, but in the end she didn’t gain any weight.

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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Have you what sort of physical effects have you noticed in doing it…?

Honestly none, none. I’ve not gained any weight. I realise that I probably am very aware of that. But, you know, the assumption. …it was funny actually. The I went to a, I went to a health promotion event, and there was a Quitters stand there. And a lady came up to me and she said, I think I’d just been out for a cigarette. This was some months ago when I… And she said, oh she gave me one of the things. She said, “Let me give you one of these. Do you want to explore quitting?” And I said, “Well, actually yes, I do.” I was kind of thinking about it at the time and she said, she said to me, “Wow, you know, there’s nothing but, there’s nothing but gains to quitting smoking. And I guess the only gain that you might not want is the stone that you’re going to gain.” Hm. That was it. I wasn’t going to quit any more. That put me off for about three months. That was, yes, that didn’t help me. But... again that was an assumption that everybody’s going to gain weight when they quit smoking.

You know, I know there’s evidence to suggest that most people might, but you don’t have to, not really.
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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