Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center

What Actually Makes People Quit Smoking

Finding the drive to quit is no easy feat, but these reasons to stop might be the motivation you need to drop the habit for good.

quit smoking
Smoking cessation is challenging, but if you talk to your physician about a method that makes sense for you, the goal is within your grasp.

If you’re eager to quit smoking, you’re not alone. About 7 out of 10 smokers in the U.S. report wanting to stop, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking cessation is challenging, but if you tap into the right motivation to persevere, and talk to your physician about a method that makes sense for you, the goal is within your grasp. David Balis, M.D., an internal medicine physician at UT Southwestern, shares four great reasons to give up smoking.

The health benefits of quitting are almost immediate. 

Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your body returns to normal, according to the World Health Organization. “Your risks for health complications and diseases that often result from smoking decrease the longer you abstain,” says Dr. Balis. “Even if you’re already experiencing issues from smoking, quitting can reduce or eliminate symptoms and help you regain your life expectancy.” 

Quitting helps you achieve goals and do the things you love.

Quitting smoking doesn’t just lower your risk for lung cancer; it can help improve your health in myriad ways. “Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and is a main cause of COPD and coronary heart disease, stroke, and a host of other cancers and diseases,” Dr. Balis says. Do the effects of smoking prevent you from training for that fun run with your pal, going for a bike ride with your kid, or taking the dog to the park? Within one to nine months of quitting, you will likely see a decrease in issues like coughing or shortness of breath. In as little as two weeks to three months, your lung function will increase.

Smoking is a drain on your bank account. 

Try this smokefree.gov calculator to find out how much money quitting will save you per day, week, month, year, and longer. Someone with a pack-a-day habit, paying the average price of $6.28 per pack, will save nearly $50 a week.  

Smoking is harmful to loved ones. 

Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which can cause cancer or other health issues,” Dr. Balis says. Even if you never smoke around your family, friends, or significant other, smoking can still hurt the people you’re closest to. Smoking damages your health, steals quality time, and costs cash. Quitting smoking, on the other hand, can set an excellent example for your kids or inspire someone else in your life who is looking to stop puffing.

Nicotine Addiction: How It Works

Smoking sets off a chemical reaction in which nicotine gets into the bloodstream and reaches the brain. The process produces cognitive benefits such as increased memory and focus but is also highly addictive. Here’s how it works:

  • A puff of smoke from a cigarette sends a hit of nicotine that quickly reaches peak levels in the blood and enters the brain. For tobacco users who don’t inhale smoke, nicotine is absorbed through the mucosal membranes and reaches the brain more slowly.
  • Nicotine reaches the α4β2 nicotinic receptors, which sit on nerve cells in the brain.
  • Nicotine binds to the receptors, causing them to open a path for ions to flood into the nerve cells in the brain. This movement of ions into the cell constitutes an electrical current.
  • The electrical current triggers the nerve cells to release neurotransmitters such as dopamine in regions of the brain associated with cognition, motivation, and reward. Nicotine also stimulates the adrenal gland, causing it to release the hormone adrenaline. The rush prompts an increase in blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate.
  • Scientists don’t yet know exactly how addiction is established, though a recent breakthrough at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute will help them examine the process at atomic resolution.

Ready to Quit? 

“Because it’s so hard to quit and so important, I stress using medication. It can make a big difference,” Dr. Balis says. “Up to 95% of the quit attempts that people make on their own without medicine fail.”

There are seven medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to aid in quitting smoking. Nicotine patches, nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges are available over the counter; a nicotine nasal spray and inhaler are currently available by prescription; and Zyban and Chantix are non-nicotine pills available by prescription.

He is especially bullish on Chantix. “It’s targeted therapy for smoking. It blocks the nicotine receptors in the brain. It’s the most effective medication we have,” he says. “I encourage Chantix, but it’s the patient’s choice.”

Quitting smoking for good often requires multiple attempts. Using counseling or medication alone increases the chance of a quit attempt being successful; the combination of both is even more effective. 

When you’re ready to quit, sign up for UT Southwestern’s Nicotine Cessation Clinic, which includes free group counseling sessions in addition to one-on-one visits with a doctor and a certified trainer who can provide medication and individual counseling as needed. Call 214-761-3139 or email canceranswerline@utsouthwestern.edu to enroll.