How to quit smoking

woman breaks a cigarette

The best way for smokers to reduce their risk of cancer is to give up smoking completely. It takes time to see the benefit but giving up smoking saves lives.

Thanks to research, new policies and improved public awareness of the benefits of quitting, the proportion of smokers in the UK has halved in the last 50 years. Because of this, the rate of people dying from lung cancer has been decreasing steadily since the 1980s.

There is still a long way to go. 1 in 5 people in the UK still smoke and smoking-related diseases kill over 100,000 people in the UK every year.

If you are a smoker, giving up smoking is the best gift you can give yourself, your friends and family. Quitting greatly reduces the risk of smoking-related cancers, as well as other diseases such as heart and lung disease, compared to continuing to smoke. The earlier you give up, the better. But equally it is never too late to gain valuable years of life by giving up smoking.

Most smokers say that they would like to give up if they could. But stopping isn't always simple. Emilie and Mark have both successfully given up after being smokers for years. They shared their stories with us, telling us how they did it, and how they feel now.

CRUK | Healthy lifestyles | Emilie Dadswell

CRUK | Healthy lifestyles | Mark Bates


You can also read about proven ways to boost your chances of quitting on our blog.

How do I get help to quit?

Quitting smoking can be hard, but free services and treatments are available to help and these have been shown to improve the chances of quitting successfully. Smokers are much more likely to quit successfully if they get professional support than if they try to go "cold-turkey".

NHS Smokefree has a range of services on offer to help keep you on track, including:

  • Stop smoking groups
  • One to one counselling
  • Prescription medication to help you control the withdrawal symptoms
  • Free email and text support programmes
  • Free app for smartphones.

NHS Smokefree helps thousands of people quit smoking every year, so if you are looking to go smokefree, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, visit NHS Smokefree or call the NHS Smokefree Helpline to find your way out of smoking:

  • England: 0800 022 4 332
  • Wales: 0800 169 0 169
  • Scotland: 0800 84 84 84
  • Northern Ireland: 0808 812 8008
  • Isle of Man: 01624 642 404

Is it safe to smoke now and again?

You are increasing your cancer risk even if you only smoke a few cigarettes a day. Light or social smoking can still harm your health. Studies have shown that even people who smoke on average 1-4 cigarettes a day are still more likely to die early than non-smokers. The risk is increased even if you don’t smoke every day, smoking 20 cigarettes in a week is an average of nearly 3 cigarettes a day.

Research CRUK helped to fund has shown that trying just 1 cigarette can make children more likely to start smoking several years later. More than 80% of smokers start by the age of 19.

Is it better to smoke filter or ‘low tar’ cigarettes?

Smokers have a much higher risk of lung cancer than non-smokers, whatever type of cigarette they smoke.

Filters and low-tar cigarettes make little difference – your lung cancer risk is not lower. This may be because smokers tend to change the way they smoke in order to satisfy their nicotine craving, for example by taking bigger puffs or smoking more cigarettes.

What influences the risk of cancer from smoking?

The more cigarettes you smoke a day, the higher your risk of cancer. If you aren’t able to quit completely, cutting down the number of cigarettes you smoke a day can be a good first step.

Scientists have found that the number of years you spend smoking affects your cancer risk even more strongly than the number of cigarettes you smoke a day. For example, smoking one pack a day for 40 years is more dangerous than smoking two packs a day for 20 years.

The serious damaging effects of smoking cannot be cancelled out by leading an otherwise healthy lifestyle, like keeping fit and eating healthily. The best way to reduce your risk is to give up smoking completely.

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