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Smoking - what you should know and reasons to quit

Smoking - what you should know and reasons to quit

How common is smoking in Ireland?

One in five Irish people smoke, rising to almost one in three 18-24 year olds. Whilst there has been a gradual decline in smoking over the past decade, 11% of Irish women smoke during pregnancy and 16 people die each day due to smoking related diseases.

What is actually in a cigarette?

Cigarettes contain over 4,000 toxic chemicals including at least 50 known carcinogens (these cause cancer).  The three main toxins are nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar. 

What are the health risks?

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).

If you smoke "light" or "low tar" cigarettes you are likely to inhale as much tar, nicotine and other poisons as those people who smoke regular cigarettes and are exposed to the same risks. Even occasional smoking increases your risk: Smoking just one cigarette a day trebles your risk of lung cancer and raises the risk of chronic lung disease and heart disease as well as other cancers.

Some of the health risks associated with smoking include:

  • Heart attacks - 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.
  • 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.
  • Lung cancer - Smoking is the single biggest risk factor for lung cancer. It is responsible for about 90% of all cases
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD or emphysema) – Most cases of COPD are caused by smoking or second hand smoke. The most important thing you can do to slow the progression of your COPD is to quit smoking.
  • Other cancers - 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.

What are the other implications of smoking?

If the above health risks are not enough to make you quit if you stop smoking;

  • Chest infections and colds become less frequent
  • Food and drink taste and smell much better
  • Finances improve, you will save well over €1,000 per year
  • Your breathing and general fitness will improve
  • The appearance of your skin and teeth will improve
  • You may find you are more confident in social situations because you won't smell of smoke any more
  • Your fertility levels will improve, along with your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.

Smoking can also cause premature ageing and wrinkles, bad breath, brittle bones, impotence, reduced fertility and increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth – this can all be prevented.

By quitting you will also be protecting the health of those around you by not exposing them to second-hand smoke, however careful you think you are being. You will reduce the chances of your children suffering from bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma attacks, meningitis and ear infections.


Can I reverse the health risks by quitting?

There is some good news - each cigarette you cut back has a health benefit and quitting completely can drastically improve your health outcomes. The effects of stopping are almost immediate:

  • Within 20 minutes your blood pressure and pulse rate will return to normal
  • Within 8 hours of stopping, the oxygen levels in your blood will rise to normal and your carbon monoxide and nicotine levels will fall
  • Within 24 hours the chance of you suffering a stroke and heart attack begins to fall
  • Within 72 hours your breathing becomes easier and your energy levels increase
  • Within weeks your circulation improves
  • Over the next few months your lungs will gradually start to work better and coughs, wheezing and breathing problems improve as lung function increases by up to 10%
  • Within 5 years the risk of a heart attack falls to about half that of someone who is still smoking
  • Within 10 years, the risk of lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker and the risk of a heart attack falls to the same as someone who has never smoked.

How can I quit?

Willpower and determination are the most important aspects when giving up smoking. However, stopping smoking is not easy so it’s important to get the help and support you need to break the addiction to nicotine and make a plan that works for you.

  • Prepare to stop - Write down your top three reasons for quitting and put them in a place where you will see them every day - say, on your fridge or in your wallet, chose a quit date, throw away any remaining cigarettes you have left which may tempt you and ask your friends and family to help keep you on track and avoid tempting situations.
  • Know what to expect - you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as the urge to smoke or feeling a little restless, irritable, frustrated or tired. Some people also find that they have difficulty sleeping or concentrating. These symptoms will pass and there are plenty of things you can do to manage them in the meantime.
  • Dealing with cravings - Medicines such as Champix, Zyban or nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) can really help you manage your cravings so please speak to your pharmacist or doctor for further advice on what would be right for you. Try to distract yourself by calling a friend or relative to get some support, go for a brisk walk - this will help clear your head and lungs and stay busy.

If you are committed to stopping smoking and think that Champix could help you to quit you can take an online consultation to see if you are suitable for the treatment.

Thinking about quitting smoking?

Go to stop smoking service



Authors and editors

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