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Quitting smoking

Why Is Quitting Smoking so Difficult AND Necessary?

Three-Link Chain of Addiction

Why is it so hard for many people to quit smoking? Most smokers know that they’re addicted, but they may not realize that there are several aspects to their addiction. We call this the “three-link chain of addiction.” Smokers have a better chance of quitting and staying quit if they address all three parts of the chain.


Smokers become physically hooked on the chemical nicotine in cigarettes. Nicotine is extremely addictive and actually produces changes in a smoker’s brain. As a result, having a cigarette decreases a smoker’s anxiety level and can help improve mood. Nicotine also stimulates the brain to release chemicals that make the smoker feel more awake and alert.


Smokers often have a cigarette at the same time every day. This may be during the drive to work, while talking on the telephone or after finishing a meal. Smoking becomes such an automatic behavior that some smokers light up without even thinking about it. Smokers also link emotions like pleasure or relief with having a cigarette.


Smoking plays a huge role in our society. Teenagers often begin smoking to fit in with a group. Asking, “Got a light?” is a common way to break the ice when meeting someone new. Social groups even form when the same employees regularly go outside to smoke during breaks.

Make a List of Your Reasons to Quit

Every smoker has a reason to smoke. You know it harms your health, but you do it anyway. Why? Maybe smoking helps you deal with stress. Maybe you like to hold a cigarette. Maybe you like the little rush of the nicotine entering your system. The more you know about why you smoke, the easier it will be to quit. Take a few minutes and think about your life and your behaviors. Then make a list.

Are you ready to quit?

Answer the below questions to yourself as Yes or No:

  • Do I want to quit smoking for myself?
  • Is quitting smoking a #1 priority for me?
  • Have I tried to quit smoking before?
  • Do I believe smoking is dangerous to my health?
  • Am I committed to trying to quit even though it may be tough at first?
  • Are my family, friends, and co-workers willing to help me quit smoking?
  • Besides health reasons, do I have other personal reasons for quitting smoking?
  • Will I be patient with myself and keep trying if I slip or backslide?

If you answered YES to 4 or more questions, you are ready to quit smoking!

If you answered YES to less than 4 questions, please talk to your primary care provider.

Timely Benefits of Quitting Smoking

When someone stops smoking, lots will happen in various time periods.

  • Within 20 minutes, your blood pressure, pulse rate, and body temperature all return to normal
  • Within 8 hours, your blood carbon monoxide level drops, and your blood oxygen level increases to normal.
  • Within 24 hours, your chance of having a heart attack decreases.
  • Within 48 hours, your nerve endings start to regrow, and your ability to taste and smell greatly improves.
  • Within 72 hours, breathing becomes easier and your energy level increases.
  • Within 2-12 weeks, your circulations improves, walking gets easier, and your lungs begin to work better.
  • Within 1-9 months, coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath all decrease.
  • Within 1 year, your added risk of getting coronary heart disease is half that of a current smoker.
  • Within 5 years, your risk of getting cancer of the mouth, throat, or esophagus is cut in half. Also, your risk of a stroke starts to become the same as that of someone who has never smoked.

Within 10 years, your risk of lung cancer is about half that of a smoker, and your risk decreases for cancer of the bladder, cervix, kidney, and pancreas. Your risk of having ulcers is also reduced.

Learn more about the CHI Health tobacco cessation program.

Jenny Roush, BSE

Jenny Roush, BSE is the Community Outreach Coordinator at the Cancer Treatment Center at CHI Health St. Francis.

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