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How to stop smoking and what happens to your body once you stamp out your last cigarette

Mirror logo Mirror 1/09/2017 Rosie Hopegood

There’s no getting away from it: smoking’s terrible for you. You probably already know that half of smokers will die as a result of their addiction, and that smoking accounts for a quarter of all cancer deaths in the UK each year.

But giving up is really difficult, which is why there are still 10 million smokers in the UK, with 3-4 million people trying to give up at any one time. 

Here, we take a look at the different ways to stamp out your addiction…

1. Cold turkey

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This is a tough but effective approach. Recent studies have shown that those who stop abruptly are 25% more likely to succeed than those who try to wean themselves off gradually.

If you decide to go cold turkey, pick a date and stick to it. Make sure you choose a time when your calendar isn’t packed with boozy social events or during a stressful time at work.

Live by the ‘not a single puff’ rule. Repeat the mantra, ‘Not even a single drag,’ until the craving passes. According to the NHS, a craving usually lasts around five minutes, so make a list of five-minute distraction strategies to tide you over when it strikes.

2. Patches, gum and lozenges

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Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) works by delivering a hit of nicotine through other means to help curb your cigarette cravings, as you get used to life without lighting up. Nowadays NRT is available in many forms – patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers – and the good news is it’s available on the NHS.

Studies show that using NRT can double your chances of quitting, but it does come with a downside: repeated exposure can cause neuro-adaptation that increases nicotine addiction.

Nicotine alone is significantly less harmful than the tar and carbon monoxide found in cigarettes, so NRT is much safer than smoking. But in order to avoid trading one addiction for another, it’s important to avoid using NRT for an extended length of time. 

3. The vape debate

E-cigarettes are available in all sorts of designs and flavours, so it’s easy to see why 2.9 million Brits are hooked on them – but the debate about their safety rages on. Keeping your hands busy while being devoid of tar, carbon monoxide and other nasties found in cigarettes means they’re often deemed a safer alternative (the NHS says e-cigs are ‘not risk free, but carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes’). However, several studies have indicated that vaping may cause cellular mutations that can lead to cancer. Because it’s so new, there’s a lack of conclusive evidence, so vape with caution.

4. Hypnotism

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It might sound a bit ‘out there’, but hypnotherapy has helped thousands to quit. In fact, in a study of 6,000 smokers, it was found to be the method with the highest success rate.

"It only takes a few days for the nicotine to leave your body, so what you’re left with is a psychological craving," says hypnotherapist Brian Jacobs. "Hypnosis addresses the craving while in a deep state of relaxation."

What happens after your last cigarette?

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After 20 minutes your pulse returns to a normal rate.

After eight hours oxygen levels return to normal and nicotine and carbon monoxide levels reduce by half.

After 48 hours there is no nicotine left in the body and the ability to taste and smell improves. Your risk of having a heart attack begins to reduce.

After 2-12 weeks your circulation improves.

After 3-9 months lung function improves by 10% and coughing decreases.

After 1 year the risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker.

After 10 years risk of lung cancer is half that of a smoker.

After 15 years risk of having a heart attack is the same as someone who has never smoked.

Our writer Rosie on being hypnotised to quit

"First, a hypnotherapist spent half an hour talking to me about my reasons for wanting to give up, before leading me through some relaxation techniques that, to my surprise, sent me into an almost trance-like state.

Over the next 30 minutes, I was guided through visualisations (imagining cigs had the face of someone I hate and stamping on them!) and affirmations, then linked a happy memory to the phrase, “You are a non smoker.”

It’s only been a week since the hypnosis, so I can’t say for sure whether it’s worked. But my cravings have almost entirely disappeared and it’s a relief not to be smoking any more."


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