Quitting smoking isn’t easy. It takes time. And a plan. You don’t have to stop smoking in one day. Start with day one. Let the Great American Smokeout event on the third Thursday in November be your day to start your journey toward a smoke-free life. You’ll be joining thousands of people who smoke across the country in taking an important step toward a healthier life and reducing your cancer risk. Plus, the American Cancer Society can help you access the resources and support you need to quit.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 32.4 million American adults still smoke cigarettes, and smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world. Smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths. And more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

While the rates of cigarette smoking have declined over the past several decades, from 42% in 1965 to 13.7% in 2019, the gains have been inconsistent. Some groups smoke more heavily or at higher rates and suffer disproportionately from smoking-related cancer and other diseases. These populations tend to be those who experience inequities in multiple areas of their lives, including those at lower socioeconomic levels, those without college degrees, American Indians/Alaska natives, African American/Black communities, LGBTQ communities, those in the military, those with behavioral health conditions, and others.

No matter your age or how long you’ve been smoking, quitting improves health both immediately and over the long term. Giving up smoking is a journey, and it can be hard, but you can increase your chances of success with a good plan and support. Getting help through counseling and medications doubles or even triples your chances of quitting successfully.

How the body heals after quitting smoking

Few habits are as harmful to the human body as smoking tobacco products, especially cigarettes.

The American Heart Association says smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. Smoking is linked to heart disease and stroke and can increase the risk for cancers of the bladder, throat, cervix, pancreas, and mouth. Smoking is linked to roughly 90 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States as well. Lung Cancer Canada indicates the majority of lung cancer cases in Canada – about 85 percent – are directly related to smoking tobacco.

Even though smoking can ravage the body and cause significant damage to the lungs, which worsens the longer one smokes, people who quit may be able to restore a good portion of their lung health. The Lung Health Institute says there are a number of ways the lungs can heal once a person stops smoking. While it may not be possible to undo the structural damage to the lungs, lung function can be significantly restored when people quit smoking. Here’s a look at some ways the lungs and other parts of the body may recover.

• Risk of heart attack decreases: The wellness resource Verywell says that after day one of quitting smokers’ risk of heart attack begins to decrease.

• Rate of COPD decline improves: Research published in the journal Respiratory Medicine found that people with mild to moderate COPD can expect to experience normalization of lung function decline within a year of quitting. This means that the rate of decline considered normal with age is the same as someone who had never smoked before.

• Reduced lung cancer risk: The risk of getting lung cancer reduces by 50 percent after 10 years of being smoke-free, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

• Carbon monoxide levels go down: Orlando Health says carbon monoxide gradually leaves the bloodstream after people quit smoking, which helps reduce the severity of symptoms like shortness of breath. Similarly, chemicals in cigarette smoke can inflame the lining of the airways.

• Reactivation of cilia: Cilia are the small hair-like structures that move mucus and bacteria to the back of the throat. They fail to work properly when a person smokes, but can resume function after quitting.

• Improved circulation: When lung function improves, oxygen can more effectively reach cells through the body and circulation improves. Within 24 hours of quitting, constriction of blood vessels also will occur, resulting in lower blood pressure and improved pulse rate. Body temperature will start to normalize within 24 hours as well.

• Improved taste and smell: Within 48 hours of quitting, taste and smell receptors start to heal, and damaged nerve cells also will begin to self-repair.

Quitting smoking is the best thing smokers can do for their bodies. Once a person quits smoking, his or her body begins healing in myriad ways.