Healthy living

Deciding to quit smoking

Middle aged man cuddling his young daughter and son
My kids made faces every time they saw the pack. They thought the diseases on the pack would happen to me. It made me think about it too”. Mark, 42

Do you know why you want to stop smoking?

You know smoking is bad for you – but do you know how bad?

People who have quit say it’s important to be clear about your reasons. Work out what reasons are important for you.

Smoking kills

Every year, about 19,000 Australians die from diseases caused by smoking. About one-third of these deaths occur in middle age. One in 2 lifetime smokers will die from their addiction.

Cigarettes are full of poisons

Tobacco smoke contains over 4000 chemicals. As well as tar and nicotine, there is also the gas carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust fumes), ammonia (found in floor cleaner) and arsenic (found in rat poison).


At least 69 of the chemicals in tobacco smoke are known to cause cancer.

Cancers caused by tobacco include cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, bladder and cervix and bone marrow (myeloid leukaemia).

Your body

Your lungs

Toxic gases damage cilia, the tiny hairs that are part of your lung cleaning system.

Smoker’s lung featuring a cancerous tumour

This lung, removed from a smoker, shows a lung cancer (white tissue) blocking the main air passage to the right lung. The tumour extends to the outside of the lung. Picture courtesy of the Prince Charles Hospital, Departments of Pathology and Medical Photography.

Tar, the solid particles in tobacco smoke, coats your lungs like soot in a chimney. Smoke irritates your lungs, so they increase the amount of mucus they make. Over time, your small airways swell up and let less air into your lungs.

Your blood

Many chemicals from tobacco smoke pass through your lungs into your bloodstream. They go everywhere your blood flows. Carbon monoxide robs your muscles, brain and body of oxygen.

Every cigarette you smoke temporarily increases your heart rate and blood pressure, and narrows the small blood vessels under your skin. Smoking slows your blood flow and reduces oxygen to your feet and hands – your fingers and toes become colder.

Your heart and brain

Chemicals from smoke make your blood cells and blood vessel walls sticky, allowing dangerous fatty deposits to build up. This slowly blocks your blood vessels, starving your tissues of oxygen. Blocked blood vessels in your heart or brain can disable or kill.

All cigarettes are toxic

It doesn’t help if you smoke weaker tasting cigarettes such as those labelled ‘fine’, ‘smooth’ or ‘refined’. These cigarettes have holes in the filter that let air in to dilute the smoke.

When you smoke these cigarettes you are still inhaling the same amount of chemicals as you would from stronger tasting cigarettes. So you do the same amount of damage.

Smoking causes disease – a good reason to quit

Smoking harms almost every organ in your body but because it happens gradually, you probably don’t notice. The strain put on your body by smoking often causes years of suffering.

Emphysema is an illness that slowly rots your lungs. People with emphysema often get bronchitis again and again, and suffer lung and heart failure.

Lung cancer is caused by chemicals in tar. Most lung cancers are caused by smoking. Smoking damages a gene called p53, and stops it from protecting your cells, allowing lung cancer to develop.

Heart disease and strokes are also more common among smokers than non-smokers. One in 3 deaths from heart disease in people under 65 is caused by smoking.

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) occurs when blood vessels in your legs or arms become blocked. It causes pain and some smokers end up having their limbs amputated.

A cross section of a healthy human blood vesselA cross section of a human blood vessel with a build-up of fat depositsBlocked human blood vessel

L to R: A cross section of a healthy blood vessel. Fat deposits have reduced the space inside the blood vessel by 75 per cent. The vessel is block by a clot. Pictures courtesy of Beohringer Ingelheim GMbH photo Lennart Nilsson/Albert Bonniers Forlag AB.

Tobacco smoke can lead to disabilities such as blindness, hip fractures and painful stomach ulcers.

These are just a few of the harmful effects of smoking.

More good reasons to quit smoking

There are many positive reasons why you should stop smoking including improving your health, lifestyle, relationships and finances.

Protect your body’s self defence

Smoking suppresses your immune system, so you are less protected against influenza and other illnesses.

Even young smokers have more coughs, phlegm, wheezing and chest infections than non-smokers. Smokers also tend to have more severe symptoms.

To help protect yourself and others from influenza, it is also recommended to get an influenza vaccine every year.

Save your money

In a way, giving up smoking is like getting a pay rise, more than $3000 a year if you smoke 20 cigarettes a day.

Improve your fitness

Smoking makes it harder to get enough oxygen to your muscles during exercise, so you tire more quickly.

Enhance your appearance

When you smoke, wrinkles around your eyes and mouth develop earlier, and tar stains your fingers and teeth.

Boost your self-confidence

Once you succeed at stopping smoking, you will have more confidence to take on other challenges.

Maintain your fertility

Men who smoke are more likely to have problems getting or maintaining an erection, due to the effects of smoking on the blood vessels in the penis. Smoking may also affect the quality of sperm.

Women who smoke are more likely to miss periods and have more painful periods. They may take longer to conceive and are more likely to have a miscarriage.

Have a healthy baby

Babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy are more likely to be premature, stillborn or die shortly after birth.

A baby exposed to tobacco smoke has a higher risk of dying from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Protect your children

Children with parents who smoke are more likely to get pneumonia and bronchitis in their first year of life.

They are more likely to suffer from meningococcal disease, asthma and middle ear infection (a common cause of deafness). They are also more likely to become regular smokers themselves.

How to stay motivated to give up smoking

Even now you might still be wondering whether you really do want to quit.

Take your time in thinking about your reasons for wanting to smoke, and your reasons for wanting to stop.

Sometimes it’s helpful to write a list of all the reasons why you want to smoke and all the reasons you want to quit. Circle the 3 most important reasons on each list. Then choose from each list the 1 reason that is the most important to you.

Your decision might be a very close one, or 1 side may win by a landslide. The important thing is to decide which you most want to do and act on that decision.

It is common to set out to quit with a part of you still wanting to smoke. You need to accept this, and commit yourself to quitting. Work out how you can get the things you got from smoking in other ways.

Another good idea is to write down the things you are looking forward to when you become a non-smoker. Some of your reasons could include:

  • having more energy to play sport or keep up with the kids
  • knowing you are back in control and no longer addicted
  • freedom from the hassle of always checking that you have enough cigarettes
  • reducing the risk of getting sick from cancer or heart disease.

Deciding to quit checklist

Once I quit I will:

  • reduce my risk of heart attack and cancer
  • feel fitter and my skin will look better
  • set a great example for the children around me
  • have more money to spend any way I choose
  • give myself a confidence boost by quitting cigarettes
  • be free of nicotine within 12 hours
  • have lungs in recovery that can clean themselves properly.

Where to get help


Quitline is a confidential telephone support service staffed by professional advisors who are trained to provide encouragement and support to help you quit.

Phone: 13 7848 (13 QUIT) (local call rates from land line only). Advisors are available from:
  • Monday to Friday 6am – 7pm
  • Saturday 11.30pm – 2.30pm
  • Sunday closed.


Chronic Disease Prevention Directorate

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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