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Smoking myths and facts

Smoking myths and facts

The HSE estimates that around 1 in 5 Irish adults smoke daily. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland with 100 people dying each week with smoke-related illnesses. 

Stopping smoking will result in healthier, longer and better quality lives for many Irish people. Therefore it’s important to separate the myths from the facts and understand the impact smoking has on your body so that you can make an informed decision to quit.

MYTH: Smokers live just as long as non-smokers

If you are a long-term smoker, on average, your life expectancy is about 10 years less than a non-smoker. Smoking is a leading risk factor for lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, chronic bronchitis or emphysema). It is never too late to stop smoking – even if you already have COPD or heart disease, your outlook is much improved if you stop.

The benefits of stopping smoking begin straight away. Within the first 24 hours of stopping, your blood pressure and lungs will be showing an improvement. After three months your circulation and breathing should have improved noticeably. After five years, your risk of having a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker. After 10 years, your risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.

MYTH: Smoking only affects you

Whenever you light up, second hand smoke is produced. The smoker only inhales about 15% of the smoke from a cigarette. The other 85% is absorbed into the atmosphere or inhaled by those around you. This isn't just unpleasant, it can be a killer. Second hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, many of which are irritants and toxins, and more than 50 are known carcinogens. People who breathe in second hand smoke are at risk of the same diseases as smokers, including cancer, stroke, lung and heart disease. Children are especially vulnerable as they have less well-developed airways and immune systems. They are at risk of bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma attacks, meningitis and ear infections. Babies exposed to second hand smoke have a higher risk of cot death.

MYTH: Stopping smoking always makes you put on weight

Cigarettes do affect your appetite and your metabolism, and they dull your taste buds, so people often gain a few pounds when they give up. However if you've stopped smoking you'll have more energy and will find it easier to be active. By doing more exercise and staying away from high calorie foods you can prevent any weight gain. In addition by stopping smoking food will taste much better.

MYTH: Smoking helps you deal with stress and anxiety

Smoking actually increases anxiety and tension. Nicotine creates an immediate sense of relaxation so people smoke in the belief that it reduces stress and anxiety. This feeling is temporary and soon gives way to withdrawal symptoms and increased cravings and actually increases the physical stress on your body. You start to "need" a cigarette to control the nicotine withdrawal symptoms - it does not reduce your stress levels or deal with the underlying causes. Non-smokers usually have lower stress levels than smokers. You'll feel much healthier once you quit smoking and this can help reduce your stress levels.

MYTH: Roll-up cigarettes are healthier than normal cigarettes

Roll-ups are just as bad for you as ordinary cigarettes and expose smokers to 4,000 toxic chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic and poisonous. They can result in the same health risks, including cancer, stroke, heart and lung disease, impotence, infertility and even amputation. Nicotine and tar yields are actually higher in roll-ups than in most ordinary cigarettes - and many people who smoke roll-ups don't use a filter, so they end up inhaling more tar and nicotine and therefore are more likely to become addicted to the cigarettes.


Now you know the common myths about smoking it’s also important to know the facts. One thing that doctors are certain of is that smoking causes serious damage to your health. 

FACT: Heart attacks

Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing the risk of conditions such as heart disease, heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels). Carbon monoxide, nicotine and other toxins from smoking put a strain on the heart by making it work harder. They increase your risk of blood clots and damage the lining of your arteries, leading them to fur up and narrow, reducing the amount of oxygen getting to your organs.

Smoking doubles your risk of having a heart attack, and if you smoke you have twice the risk of dying from heart disease than non-smokers.

The good news is that after only one year of not smoking, your risk is reduced by half. After stopping for 15 years, your risk is similar to that of someone who has never smoked.

FACT: Stroke

Smoking increases your risk of having a stroke, which can cause brain damage and death. And, by smoking, you double your risk of dying from a stroke.

The good news is that within two years of stopping smoking, your risk of stroke is reduced to half that of a non-smoker and within five years it will be the same as a non-smoker.

FACT: Cancer

Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for lung cancer. It is responsible for about 90% of all cases. If you smoke more than 25 cigarettes a day, you are 25 times more likely to get lung cancer than a non-smoker. Smoking also increases the risk of at least 13 other cancers. Half of all long term smokers eventually die from cancer, or other smoking-related illnesses. And half of those will die in middle age, between 35 and 69.

FACT: Smoking is expensive

If you give up smoking you will save money. Life and health insurance are also more expensive.

If you want to give up there are lots of options available to help you quit:

  1. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about nicotine replacement therapies
  2. Try Champix which helps reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It can double and sometimes even triple your chances of successfully quitting.
  3. Call the HSE Quit Team on Freefone 1800 201 203 for further help and advice

Thinking about quitting smoking?

Go to stop smoking service



Authors and editors

Reviewed and updated by: Our clinical team Date reviewed: 21-01-2023