The consequences of smoking and quitting

What really happens?
The consequences of smoking and quitting

Nowadays, hardly anyone can say that they are unaware of the negative consequences of smoking. As a smoker these days, every packet of cigarettes you buy is accompanied by unsavoury pictures and ominous warnings. However, unless you save these shocking pictures, you probably don't have the full picture of all the consequences. This blog will give you an overview of the effects of smoking on your body. It also explains how your health will improve once you stop smoking.


Whether it is raining, storming or even hailing: on the pavement in front of every pub, there is always a group of people inhaling cigarette smoke. They look like they are cold, and know that the consequences of smoking are not good for them, but still they stand there. This is because of the addictive effect of nicotine.

Your brain gets used to the nicotine very quickly. This is why you get withdrawal symptoms when you don't smoke, such as irritation or a restless feeling. Smokers often think that smoking calms them down, but they forget that this restlessness is one of the consequences of smoking.


You sometimes see ex-smokers starting again after months, when the physical withdrawal symptoms have already passed. This has to do with mental addiction. Because smokers often light up a cigarette in fixed situations, for example after dinner, their brain expects nicotine at such times. People who stop smoking therefore often use lollipops to satisfy their need for something to hold.

Thus smoking is both a physical and mental addiction. Most people know that, but many do not know exactly what it really does to your body. For example, how does smoking affect your heart and brain? Below you can read the consequences of smoking on different aspects of your body and life.

We will cover the effects of smoking on:

  • Lungs
  • Heart and blood vessels
  • Hair, nails and skin
  • Mouth and digestion
  • Brain, eyes and nervous system
  • Sexuality and Fertility


At BODY WORLDS Amsterdam, there is a set of plastinated smokers' lungs on display. They are black and shrivelled. The consequences of smoking become painfully visible here. You don't need to be a doctor to see that these lungs are unhealthy. The black colour and lung damage are caused by toxic substances, such as tar, which smokers ingest with every cigarette they smoke. Do you want to see them with your own eyes? Get your ticket for BODY WORLDS here.

Smokers often cough and are more likely to be out of breath. Despite the coughing, smokers do not get all the substances out of their lungs. Therefore, over time, lung emphysema develops, with the air sacs in your lungs dying off. This is why you are more likely to run out of breath: you simply have less lung left. Other consequences of smoking for the lungs are an increased risk of developing bronchitis (inflammation of the lungs) and lung cancer. Finally, smokers have more frequent colds, flu and respiratory infections.


The nicotine in a cigarette makes your blood vessels contract. This reduces the free flow of blood. Smoking also reduces the level of good cholesterol in the blood and raises blood pressure. This increases the risk of damage to the blood vessels and the build-up of bad cholesterol. Which then increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Carbon monoxide binds to the blood, lessening its ability to absorb oxygen.

Smoking also increases the risk of developing blood clots. Together with weakened arteries, this increases the risk of a stroke. In the long term, another consequence of smoking can occur: leukaemia (blood cancer).


Smokers are usually easy to spot. They have duller skin, more wrinkles and look older than they are. This is because the structure of your skin is affected by smoking. If this is not enough to identify a smoker, you can always look at their teeth or nails. They often have yellow stains. If you are still in doubt, you can also use your nose. The musty smell of old smoke always surrounds a smoker. In short: smoking does not give you a healthy glow.


Some of the substances in tobacco smoke are bad for your teeth. Apart from the yellow teeth mentioned before, it can lead to inflamed gums or infections in your mouth. This damages your teeth and can even cause them to fall out. Smoking also decreases your ability to taste and smell things properly. Don't forget that it also makes your breath smell quite bad!

Furthermore, smoking increases the risk of cancer in the mouth and throat. Cigar smokers who do not inhale are therefore at risk just as much as those who do inhale. Smokers are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Finally, smoking reduces the appetite, so you may not get all the nutrients you need.


The effects of smoking on the brain, nerves and eyes are less well known. Nevertheless, smoking can have a major impact on them. There is an increased risk of developing eye diseases such as retinal detachment or cataracts. Smoking also increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease, ALS and psychiatric disorders. People who start smoking at a young age are more likely to have concentration problems and find it harder to control their impulses.


As mentioned earlier, a smoker's blood doesn’t flow as freely as for non-smokers. This can lead to erection problems in men. Women are not well off either: female smokers go through menopause earlier and they are also more likely to get cervical cancer. Both men and women are more likely to be infertile when they smoke and to have difficulty to orgasm.

The consequences of smoking for a pregnant woman are not to be underestimated either. Smokers have more complications, such as miscarriages, problems with the placenta and premature births. Babies whose mothers smoke are often underweight, more likely to have birth defects and have a higher risk of SIDS, also known as cot death. When a new-born baby ingests smoke, through secondhand smoking, it is more likely to get ear infections and asthma attacks.


Maybe it's because you're already out of breath when you climb stairs. Maybe you saw the black lungs at BODY WORLDS. Maybe you're worried about the effects of smoking on your health and want to grow old healthily. Or maybe you've noticed that people give you a dirty look when they have to sit next to you. Whatever the reason, you have decided to quit.

When you stop smoking, will you see an immediate difference in your body or does it take time? In short: what are the physical effects of stopping smoking? We discuss the physical effects you experience when you quit smoking for different time frames:

  • The first day
  • The first week
  • The first year
  • The following years
  • The rest of your life

The very first day!

Within 20 minutes of quitting
Believe it or not, quitting smoking changes things within half an hour. For example, your blood pressure and pulse will be back to normal within 20 minutes.

Within 2 hours of quitting
The need for nicotine usually returns 2 hours after your last cigarette. This can be accompanied by a feeling of restlessness, a strong feeling of hunger and an enormous urge to smoke your next cigarette.

Within 8 hours of quitting
The level of carbon monoxide in your blood and also the oxygen level return to normal.

Within 24 hours of quitting
The risk of a heart attack is reduced within the first 24 hours!

The first week

Within 48 hours of quitting
Your ability to taste and smell improves as the ends of your nerves regroup.

Within 3 days of quitting
The nicotine has completely disappeared from your body. Breathing becomes easier.

The first year

Within 2 to 3 months of quitting
Your lung capacity improves by 30%. Your blood circulation is improved and you are less likely to run out of breath when moving.

Within 1 to 9 months of quitting
The cilia that protect your lungs from 'dirt' grow back, increasing your lungs’ ability to deal with mucus, becoming clean again and preventing infections. You feel that you have more energy.

The following years

Within 2 years of quitting
The risk of a heart attack is now the same as for a non-smoker.

Within 5 years of quitting
The risk of lung cancer for a smoker who smoked a pack a day is halved. The risk of stroke has also been reduced. The risk of cancer in the mouth and throat for has decreased by half.

Within 10 years of quitting
The number of deaths from lung cancer is the same as for people who do not smoke.

Within 15 years of quitting
The risk of cardiovascular disease becomes equal to that of a person who has never smoked.

The rest of your life

After 15 years, your physical condition is back to that of a non-smoker. Your risk of disease has decreased, your condition has improved and you certainly feel a lot healthier and fitter. The consequences of smoking are therefore to a large extent reversible.

World No Tobacco Day

On 31 May, it is World No Tobacco Day. The WHO created this day in response to the global tobacco crisis and the diseases and deaths caused by the epidemic. According to the World Health Organization, 8 million people die every year from the effects of tobacco use. Tobacco is the main cause of respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tuberculosis and other lung diseases.