On Your Health

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Benefits of Quitting Smoking During the COVID-19 Pandemic

19 November 2020

November 19 is The Great American Smokeout — a perfect motivator to finally give up those cigarettes.

If you are a smoker, you already know that quitting that habit is the best thing you can do for your health right now. You also know that quitting nicotine is easier said than done. But, the plethora of health benefits of kicking the butt can help serve as motivation to do just that.

From your bones to your very DNA, your body goes through drastic changes after quitting. Almost immediately, your lungs begin to try to heal, and your lung function can improve dramatically once cigarettes are gone from your life.

While the damage is hard to reverse, new research published in Respiratory Medicine found that those with mild to moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) achieve normalization of lung function decline within a year of quitting. Even for those with severe COPD, the rate of decline was slashed in half after one year of no smoking.

You don’t have to wait a year to start to see the benefits of smoking cessation. Within minutes, hours and days of quitting, the benefits start stacking up.

If you need more motivation to quit besides the obvious reasons of saving money, getting rid of that smoker’s cough and not smelling like smoke, here’s what happens when you quit smoking and why it’s more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Within 24 hours

Smoking causes your blood vessels to constrict, and within 24 hours of stubbing out that last butt, the constriction starts to loosen up. The blood pressure, pulse rate and body temperature start to return to normal levels. Carbon monoxide levels also drop, and your blood oxygen levels begin to get back to normal, too. 

Even more importantly, your risk of heart attack begins to dip.

Within 72 hours

Food starts to taste better as your taste buds and smell receptors heal. Damaged nerve cells also start to heal, but the addiction cycle kicks in hard. This is generally the hardest time for cravings, but those cravings start to decrease as nicotine receptors in your brain start to change. Within a month, nicotine receptors drop to a normal level.

Within one month

Within one month of quitting smoking, the cravings become easier to manage, and the risk for hearing loss and vision damage decrease. The teeth become whiter and the skin starts to heal from premature aging and wrinkling.

Your risk of heart attack and stroke also diminish and you might notice it’s easier to walk up the stairs as the lungs repair themselves. In fact, one of the first things to heal in the body is cilia, tiny, finger-like projections in your respiratory tract. Healthy cilia help you fight off colds, viruses and infections, so you might notice you aren’t getting sick as often. 

After one year

The risk for coronary heart disease drops to half that of current smokers, and your lung function will have reached near-normal levels if you have mild to moderate COPD. DNA damage stops and some of the damage to the DNA even begins to heal. 

During the first year of quitting smoking your risk of diabetes also decreases. For women, estrogen levels gradually return to normal, and men lower their chances of erectile dysfunction.

By the end of the first year, most people also find that they heal from wounds and illnesses faster due to normal white blood cell counts and improved blood flow.

After two years

For those who quit smoking successfully for two years, the chances of being a lifelong non-smoker increases. According to the Boston University School of Dental Medicine, 80 percent of people who make it two years never return to smoking. At around five years, your risk of stroke is the same as a non-smoker's.

After 15 years of being smoke-free, your risk of stroke, lung cancer and heart disease will be about the same as people who never smoked.

COVID-19 and smoking

While the Centers for Disease Control and researchers have not necessarily found a direct correlation between smoking and more severe COVID cases, smoking certainly does not help the situation. Imagine trying to run a 100-yard dash with 20-pound sandbags attached to your back.

The CDC warns that being a current or former cigarette smoker increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Because smokers have lung problems that leave them more vulnerable diseases such as bronchitis and the flu, they also face a higher risk of a viral invasion taking hold.

According to the World Health Organization, one observational study of seven studies (1,726 patients) found a “statistically significant association between smoking and severity of COVID-19 outcomes amongst patients.” 

Why risk it? If you are a current smoker, quit now. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. 

Get support

Quitting smoking is hard, but millions have done it successfully. Getting support from your INTEGRIS physicians and smoking cessation programs increase your chances of kicking the butt forever.

If you're thinking about quitting smoking, your INTEGRIS physician can help you get started. The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline also provides free tobacco cessation services. 

The Helpline offers tips for beating cravings and getting ahead of stressors at, or you can give them a call at 1-800- QUIT NOW. In addition to tips and resources online, the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline provides FREE services including text and email support and free patches, gum or lozenges. Additionally, Quit Coaches are available 24/7 to assist in creating a customized Quit Plan.


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