Smoking

Introduction

Photo of a cigarette in an ashtray
PantherMedia / Maria Dubova

Reaching for a cigarette after a meal, during a break or with a beer is a habit many people enjoy. But most of them try to quit smoking at some point.

There are many good reasons to quit smoking. It increases the risk of various diseases and is an added expense. But it's difficult to give up a long-term habit like smoking. You might need to make several attempts before it works.

Effects

Smoking is harmful to your health in many ways. For instance, it increases your risk of getting an infectious disease like the flu, a cold or . Over time it can lead to a chronic cough and lung disease. It affects your physical fitness and causes damage to the cardiovascular system, which can lead to things like a heart attack or stroke. Smoking also increases the risk of many types of cancer – especially lung cancer and cancerous mouth and throat tumors.

The health of your teeth and gums is also affected. For instance, smokers are more likely to have gum inflammations and . Wounds also heal more slowly in smokers, and there is also a higher risk of complications after surgery.

In pregnant women, smoking can affect the development of the unborn child. Nicotine and harmful substances in the smoke can decrease his or her oxygen supply. This is one of the reasons why miscarriages are more common in women who smoke. It also increases the risk that the baby will be born prematurely, too small or underweight.

Prevention

It is very hard to quit smoking once you are addicted to nicotine. So it's best to not start in the first place. But most people who smoke started when they were teenagers, at an age when people often don’t think about their health.

Many parents wonder what they can do to keep their children from smoking. As parents, they have a direct influence by setting a good example: Children are more likely to start smoking if they have a parent, sibling or friend who smokes. It's also helpful when parents know what risks are associated with smoking and can talk about them with their children. Usually it's easier to have these conversations if you are patient, listen and try not to criticize.

Treatment

There are different strategies for quitting smoking. Many smokers succeed on their own after a few attempts. Often it's easier with some outside help, but even then it usually takes a few tries. Support can be provided by doctors, information centers or support groups. Some health insurers in Germany can also help with courses on how to quit smoking.

Nicotine replacement therapy can relieve the physical symptoms of withdrawal and help to give up the habit. The tobacco cigarettes are replaced by a nicotine patch or gum, for example. Some medications can help too. It isn’t clear whether e-cigarettes can, though.

Everyday life

Most people who quit smoking gain some weight. This may be especially noticeable during the first year. The weight gain isn’t only a result of eating or snacking more often – your metabolism changes as well. Smoking also suppresses your appetite. But these changes in weight vary considerably from person to person. Some former smokers don't put on any weight or may even lose some, while others gain more than five kilograms (around 11 pounds). Gaining a little weight is definitely better for your health than smoking – and your metabolism and weight may also return to normal over time.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Psychosomatik und Nervenheilkunde (DGPPN), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Suchtforschung und Suchttherapie (DG-Sucht). S3-Leitlinie: Screening, Diagnostik und Behandlung des schädlichen und abhängigen Tabakkonsums. AWMF-Registernr.: 076-006. February 09, 2015.

Edwards SA, Bondy SJ, Callaghan RC, Mann RE. Prevalence of unassisted quit attempts in population-based studies: a systematic review of the literature. Addict Behav 2014; 39(3): 512-519.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. January 2014.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

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Updated on August 24, 2017
Next planned update: 2021

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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