If you are a smoker it is likely that you have heard that your body starts to heal itself permanently within twenty minutes of your very last cigarette. Is that true? If permanent and long-term smoking cessation is your goal, then yes, your body is going to respond to the absence of poisons within a short while after you take that last puff.
Poison? Absolutely! You didn't think that an article about smoking cessation would be gentle about the things contained in a cigarette did you? If you don't believe that a single puff on a cigarette is poisonous, just do the following experiment:
Take a cigarette, light it, but don't inhale into your lungs. Instead, inhale only into your mouth and then hold a clean handkerchief across your mouth and blow out the smoke. What do you see on that once white cloth...yes, yuck! That is what goes into your lungs many times over with each cigarette. Naturally, this means that smoking cessation is going to help clean up the lungs, but it takes time.
In order to understand this a bit better, let's look at the different parts of the body impacted by your smoking cessation effort. We'll start with the most obvious...
Lungs and Smoking Cessation
During your years of smoking on a regular basis it is your lungs that have taken a huge amount of the abuse. For example, with the very first inhalation of cigarette smoke you actually inhibited your lungs' ability to self-regulate and cleanse themselves fully. Over time this has caused your lungs to work harder and harder to do the same amount of work.
Your lungs respond to toxins by creating mucus. This is why you have morning cough - it is your lungs waking up relatively clean because you haven't smoked for a while. The lungs get to work right away trying to empty that junk out, but you cough up some phlegm and then light up that first cigarette with your morning coffee, and all of their work is undone.
Did you know that the mucus your lungs create in response to smoking also make you prone to infection easier? When someone in your household or circle of friends has a respiratory infection you are probably one of the first to catch it because your cigarettes have actually made your lungs far more sensitive to infection.
Your lungs are also not just coated with a layer of disgusting mucus. They also have a layer of tar (the stuff that stained the hanky in the experiment). This makes the lungs work harder, less flexible, and prone to emphysema and cancer.
When you follow a smoking cessation your lungs start to clear up right away, but it will literally take years before you have healthy pink lungs again.
Smoking Cessation and the Throat
Of course, you feed smoke and air into the lungs through your mouth, nose, and throat, and when you seek to stop smoking you are also doing these vital organs a favor too.
Just stop to consider what happened the first time you inhaled a cigarette...your eyes watered up, you coughed and gagged, your throat burned like crazy, and your nose felt swollen for a few hours afterward. This is all of the nerve endings reacting to the toxins in cigarettes. Over only a short period of time the mucous membranes in these delicate areas are forced to thicken as a response to the irritants. This means that cellular changes have occurred, and that means that you are now open to nose, throat, and other forms of cancer.
After the Lungs
Smoking hits the throat, eyes, nose, and lungs first, but it also affects other organs too. For instance, your heart has to work harder each time you smoke, but it also has to work harder on a continual basis too. This is because cigarettes contain compounds that quicken the heart rate, but they also make the bronchi in the lungs thicken. So even when there is no smoking going on, the heart has to just work harder in general.
Want to know why so many smokers have heart attacks? You just discovered the answer- smoking increases the heart rate while making it harder for the heart to work. Little wonder that so many smokers have heart attacks each year.
Of course, the increase in blood pressure is not that helpful either. When someone smokes they bump up their blood pressure by 15%. This means the heart is even more challenged, and that blood vessels are at tremendous risk too.
One of the main reasons that people in smoking cessation programs suddenly "look better" is because they are actually getting blood and oxygen to the skin. Cigarette smoke constricts the vessels in the skin and chokes off the supplies. This is why a heavy smoker may actually appear grey - they are not getting enough blood and oxygen!
We also know that the blood suffers when someone smokes too. Those who are chronic smokers have carbon monoxide levels that can be ten times higher than the non-smoker. This level can hold for almost six hours after the last cigarette is smoked, and this means that few people get regular blood levels before they are smoking again.
Deciding on Smoking Cessation
Now, we have just itemized for you the things that happen when you smoke. These are the absolutes, the "givens" in terms of what happens to smokers. There are also the "might happen" issues too. For example, smokers can develop life threatening lung and respiratory conditions, they can get all kinds of cancer, they can give cancer to family members thanks to second hand smoke, and they can even cause reproductive problems too.
This is why smoking cessation is always going to be worth the effort. It has its many challenges, and it does require a lengthy detoxification process, but if you review the issues we just mentioned you will see that it is well worth it. Within 20 minutes your body is on the road to healing, and after three days you will already be able to smell and taste things, and breathe easier!
Valerie Johnston is a health and fitness writer located in East Texas. With ambitions of one day running a marathon and writing for Healthline.com ensures she keeps up-to-date on all of the latest health and fitness news.