Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Smoking has been identified as a contributing factor to numerous and very serious health problems, including several cancers, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses.
Considering all the risks, many people decide to give up the unhealthy habit. In 2018, 61.7% of adults with a history of smoking, or 55 million people, reported they had quit the unhealthy habit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To identify exactly what happens to the body when a person stops smoking, 24/7 Tempo reviewed several studies on the effects of smoking and also consulted Dr. Adam Goldstein, who conducts research on health policy and disparities in tobacco use and cessation.
“What makes cigarettes so addictive is the nicotine in the tobacco,” said Goldstein, director of Tobacco Intervention Programs at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “Nicotine is the hardest addiction to quit.” It enters the nervous system within seconds, attaching itself to receptors in the brain that release dopamine, which is commonly known as “the feel good hormone,” Goldstein explained. And when you try to quit, “You don’t even have to see someone else smoke, just thinking about it causes withdrawal symptoms.”
Quitting smoking can only help improve a person’s health and is always recommended. The only negative aspect of smoking cessation — which is certainly not a reason to keep smoking — is possible weight gain, especially among people who are already overweight. Nicotine decreases appetite and increases metabolism. “On average, a person gains about 4 pounds,” Goldstein said of people who stop smoking. “Obese people need a strategy to help manage their weight while they go through withdrawal.”
Some smokers may mistakenly think that e-cigarettes can help, but they are not the way to quit, Goldstein explained. “People don’t actually quit.” Most smokers who start using e-cigarettes still smoke tobacco cigarettes, even though they may have cut down, he noted. “Electronic cigarettes are not FDA regulated, people still get some toxicity and very high levels of nicotine. We won’t know the real effects [of e-cigarettes] until 20 years from now; there are safer meds to quit,” he added.
No organ is spared from the toxins in cigarettes. Not all are equally affected, but the toxins are rapidly distributed throughout the body and reach all tissues — this is exactly what happens once you start smoking.