We are constantly aware that smoking is harmful to our health, but exactly how harmful is it? Smoking causes or worsens many conditions such as heart attack, stroke, emphysema and lung cancer. Half of all lifetime smokers die from diseases caused by their smoking, and half of them die before the age of 70. However, the good news is that quitting smoking has immediate and long-term health benefits.

The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to quit smoking. There are health benefits of quitting for all smokers, regardless of their age, sex or length of time that they have been smoking. People who have already developed smoking-related health problems, like heart disease, can still benefit from quitting.


Quitting smoking at any age will reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic bronchitis and many other health conditions related to smoking. However, the earlier you quit, the greater the health benefit.

Within just 12 hours of stopping smoking, the carbon monoxide in your blood reduces dramatically. Within 12 weeks, your heart attack risk is reduced, circulation and lung function improves and exercise is easier. Within one year, your chance of having a heart attack is halved compared to that of a continuing smoker and within 15 years your chance of having a heart attack or risk of dying fall to about the same as that of a non-smoker.

Smokers who quit by the age of 30 gain 10 years of life expectancy and avoid most smoking-related diseases. Even quitting at the age of 60 improves your life expectancy by a few years. If you already have a smoking-related disease, quitting will improve your condition and assist in your treatment. Quitting at any age doesn’t just increase your life expectancy, but improves your quality of life!

The benefits of quitting smoking extend past reducing your chances of a premature death and illness. You will enjoy food more as your sense of taste and smell will be enhanced. You will have more energy to do the things you love and by not having to buy tobacco you will save around $3500 a year for a pack a day smoker! Cigarettes will no longer control your life.


Nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes that makes smokers want to keep on smoking, so quitting smoking is usually difficult. Withdrawal symptoms are the way your body reacts when it stops getting nicotine and all the other chemicals in tobacco smoke. You really have to want to quit if you are to have any real chance of succeeding. Even so, it often takes several attempts before success is achieved.

There are many different ways of quitting, and different methods work for different people. Sometimes a combination of two or more methods is necessary.

‘Cold turkey’ means suddenly stopping smoking without help. This is a popular quitting strategy but doesn’t work for everyone as some people become so irritated by the associated withdrawal symptoms that they start smoking again. Others gradually reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke each day, and then quit. Some people use aids such as medicines, supportive counselling, or complementary and alternative therapies like acupuncture, meditation or hypnosis to help them stop smoking.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy gives you a steady small dose of nicotine from a skin patch, chewing gum, lozenge, micro-tab or inhaler. The small dose of nicotine replaces the nicotine you previously obtained from cigarettes to help reduce the cravings and withdrawal symptoms often experienced when quitting, making it easier to learn to live without cigarettes.

Nicotine replacement products are much safer than cigarettes, because they do not contain the cancer-causing substances and other dangerous chemicals found in tobacco smoke. They are also less addictive than cigarettes. Nicotine replacement therapy is available without a prescription from pharmacies. Your pharmacist and GP can give advice about which product to use and how to use it.

Prescription Medications

The prescription drugs buproprion (Zyban SR & Prexaton) and varenicline (Champix) can also reduce some nicotine withdrawal symptoms to increase your chances of stopping smoking when combined with counselling. They must be prescribed by your doctor as they are not suitable for everyone and can trigger strong side effects in a small number of people.



Quitting smoking can be quite difficult so it often pays to get support right from the start. A doctor, pharmacist, nurse or Quitline (13 7848 or 13 1848) can give you support and information about the various methods of quitting and their pros and cons, and give you tips and written information about quitting.

Attending individual or group counselling sessions, enrolling in a quit course, or joining a stop-smoking group can also offer ongoing encouragement, support and helpful information from fellow quitters or someone experienced in helping people to quit. This can increase your chances of success by helping you to stay motivated and on track.


Enlisting the support of family and friends can also be vital. They can give you day-to-day encouragement and support, particularly when you are craving a cigarette.