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Can quitting smoking have immediate benefits?

Nicotine craving is most intense between 48 and 72 hours after the last cigarette, before gradually decreasing over 20 days. — Reuters pic

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PARIS, July 31 ― Quitting smoking is a challenge that may seem impossible for the heaviest smokers. But while withdrawal syndromes can be daunting, quitting brings health benefits in the short and longer term.

Quitting smoking has many benefits, some of which can be felt within just a few minutes, according to the French Federation of Cardiology. In fact, 20 minutes after a cigarette, blood pressure and heartbeat are no longer disrupted. And eight hours later ― or the time it takes to get a good night’s sleep ― benefits can be seen in the blood, as carbon monoxide levels halve, while cell oxygenation returns to normal. Between two weeks and three months down the line, coughing and fatigue diminish and breathing improves.

The period of smoking cessation is perilous for future ex-smokers. According to France’s national quitline, tabac infos service, nicotine withdrawal is most intense between 48 and 72 hours after the last cigarette, before gradually decreasing over twenty days. It takes six to 12 months to disappear completely.

Why does it take so long? Because nicotine is a “reinforcing” drug, according to the Canadian government website, “which means that users desire the drug regardless of the damaging effects.” Once inhaled, nicotine takes 10 seconds to reach the brain and release dopamine. The reward cycle then begins, leading to a feeling of well-being, an appetite suppressant effect, etc.

Once this cycle is started, the feeling of withdrawal is inevitably triggered between two cigarettes, making it even more difficult to stop. Because the brain does not receive nicotine, it no longer releases dopamine. The effects of withdrawal are then felt. 

Why is quitting so hard?

Quitting smoking has side effects. From anxiety and attention issues to depression, the psychological symptoms are numerous. These symptoms usually begin between two and 72 hours after stopping, and last for 10 to 30 days. They are most intense after three to four days of quitting, before gradually diminishing, explains the University Centre for Primary Care and Public Health in Lausanne.

From a physical point of view, weight gain can occur, with three to four kilos, on average. However, this isn’t necessarily inevitable, reminds the Swiss organization. Another common symptom is coughing. It lasts on average three to four weeks. But the good news is that coughing is the sign that the respiratory system is purging the waste present in the respiratory system.

Quitting smoking, cutting cancer risk?

Smoking has irreversible effects on health. And while stopping smoking reduces the risk of developing smoking-related disease, it doesn’t negate them. According to a study from the University Medical Center of Nashville, published in 2018, ex-smokers retain three times the risk of developing cancer compared to people who never smoked. The risk remains even after 25 years of quitting.

But all is not lost. According to a study from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, conducted on 517 patients, quitting smoking ― even when cancer is already diagnosed ― significantly extends life span. Among the study participants, 44.5 per cent decided to quit smoking, and few relapsed. These patients were more likely to live longer than those who continued to smoke after their diagnosis, gaining an average of 22 months. ― ETX Studio

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