Smoking Relapse Timeline – The Health Benefits of Quitting
Most smokers who try to quit will experience a smoking relapse – particularly in the early stages when withdrawal symptoms are strongest.ii But don’t give up. Stopping smoking brings health benefits for years to come. Take a look at this handy timeline to see how your body recovers after smoking your last cigarette or cigar, and when to watch out for pitfalls:v
- After 20 minutes – your heart rate drops.
- After 12 hours – carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop to normal.
- After 2-3 weeks – your heart attack risk begins to drop and your lung function begins to improve.
- After 1-9 months – your coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
- After 1 year – your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.
- After 5 years – your stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker (5-15 years after quitting).
- After 10 years – your lunch cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker’s. Your risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas decreases.
- After 15 years – your risk of coronary heart disease is back to that of a non-smoker’s.
Alongside all these great benefits, giving up smoking can also help you sleep better.
How to Deal With a Smoking Relapse
If you’ve had a relapse, don’t beat yourself up. It’s not unusual to experience a few bumps along the way when you are trying to quit. Follow these simple tips to get back on track:
- Get some support – you’re more likely to stop smoking if you seek expert help.iii
- Curb the cravings – discard your cigarettes, forgive yourself and then get back on track. Using nicotine replacement therapy, such as Nicorette® Gum, helps to reduce your withdrawal symptoms. And chewing nicotine gum, when used as directed, can double your chances of a successful quit.iv
- Avoid your triggers – avoiding the triggers that make you want to smoke can help, so distract yourself whenever you would typically reach for a cigarette. Try deep breathing, doing something else, or going for a walk. Remember cravings usually only last 15-20 minutes.
- Keep learning – quitting is a learning experience, and just like riding a bike, you might have to fall off a few times before you master a new skill. If you have a slip, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure; it just means you need to keep on learning.
If you’re looking for some more inspiration to help you get over a smoking relapse, read these 10 incredible stories about what happens when you go smoke-free.
i. Estimating the number of quit attempts it takes to quit smoking successfully in a longitudinal cohort of smokers. BMJ Open. 2016;6:e011045. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011045
ii. Your Year to Quit Smoking. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-information/2019-your-year-quit-smoking. Accessed 09/01/19.
iii. 10 Self Help Tips to Stop Smoking. NHS Choices. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/10-self-help-tips-to-stop-smoking/. Accessed 09/01/19.
iv. What Is Nicotine Gum? Nicorette®. https://www.nicorette.com/support-hub/what-is-nicotine-gum.html. Accessed 09/01/19.
v. Within 20 Minutes of Quitting. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/2004/posters/20mins/index.htm. Accessed 06/04/20.