Many people realize how smoking can affect the lungs. 8 out of 10 cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are caused by smoking. This condition cannot be cured, and patients experience difficulty breathing and eventually die due to respiratory dysfunction. Plus, smokers are 20 times more likely to get lung cancer than people who do not smoke. 
While most people understand the impact of smoking on the lungs, fewer realize that smoking can damage your heart just as much. In fact, smoking can negatively affect every single organ in your body, including your lungs, heart, eyes, bladder, and digestive organs. 
In the United States, smoking causes 1 in 5 deaths each year.  This staggering statistic proves that the dangers of smoking cannot be undermined.
Let’s explore the ways smoking can impact your heart, the benefits of smoking cessation, and how you quit smoking and reduce your exposure to cigarette smoke.
Every puff of cigarette smoke contains a mixture of more than 7000 different chemicals! 
The chemicals and toxins present in cigarette smoke enter your bloodstream and cause the cells lining your blood vessels to become inflamed. As a result, your blood vessels eventually become more narrow and stiffer, leading to many associated heart diseases. 
Some of the harmful chemicals inside cigarette smoke are nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar. 
Smoking increases your risk of atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and stiffening of your blood vessels. These blood vessels become narrower and less flexible. Additionally, cigarette smoke also heightens the buildup of fatty deposits known as plaque on the blood vessel walls, further impeding blood flow. 
Besides that, smoking can also cause your heart to pump irregularly, increase blood pressure, and raise your heart rate.  Plus, the chemicals inside cigarette smoke can cause your blood to thicken.
As a result of all these occurrences, your heart is forced to work harder, and it becomes more difficult for blood flow to supply vital organs such as your brain, lungs, kidneys, and liver. The chances of blood clot formation also increase, and ultimately, your risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases is markedly raised. 
Both heavy and light smokers are at a higher risk of experiencing cardiovascular diseases. However, the risk of heart disease increases with the number of cigarettes smoked daily. 
Quitting smoking can benefit your overall health and wellbeing. Specifically, in terms of your heart’s health, quitting can lead to an improvement in your cholesterol levels and slow the progression of arteriosclerosis. 
In addition to that, quitting can also reduce your risk of heart diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Ultimately, it lessens the chances of premature death as a result of cardiovascular disease. 
Regarding your lungs, smoking cessation can also lower the chances of developing COPD and respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Ultimately, people who quit smoking experience a better quality of life as they are less likely to have respiratory symptoms such as cough, difficulty in breathing, sputum production, and wheezing. 
That’s not all! Quitting smoking will lessen your chances of developing more than 12 different types of cancer, including lung, kidney, liver, mouth, throat, and stomach cancer. 
Last but not least, pregnant women who choose to quit smoking will reap many benefits. Quitting smoking will drastically lessen the risk of stillbirth, miscarriages, congenital disabilities, premature birth, low-weight babies, and sudden infant death syndrome. 
Understandably, it can be extremely tough to quit smoking. Many people realize the harmful effects of cigarette smoke on their health, but this doesn’t make it easier to quit smoking.
The nicotine in cigarette smoke triggers the release of chemical messengers in your brain that produce a feel-good sensation. Hence, smoking can become a quick way to reduce stress and unwind. When you stop smoking, you can feel irritable, anxious, and have trouble concentrating throughout the day. [9,10]
Other than that, smoking can also be associated with your day-to-day routines, such as drinking coffee, taking a break at work, talking with friends, or talking on the phone. Feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, and frustration may also trigger the urge to smoke. Other times, you may have friends or colleagues who smoke, and you’ve picked up the habit to fit in and relate with them. [9,10]
Due to a combination of all these factors, smoking is a tough habit to quit. However, millions of people globally have successfully kicked the habit, and they report feeling better. With the proper guidance, help, and support, you can quit smoking, too.
To successfully quit smoking, you have to address specific factors, including the addiction, cravings, and associated habits and routines. Here are some practical tips that may help you while you’re trying to quit.
Choose your start date, preferably within the next two weeks. This will provide you with ample time to plan for your start date, but at the same time, keep your motivation intact. Try your best to stick to the start date you have set as much as possible. 
Since your smoking cessation journey may present you with some challenges, try to anticipate those obstacles and strategize ways to overcome them. For example, smokers who try to quit smoking will commonly face nicotine withdrawal and cravings to smoke. 
Support can come from many different people. For instance, you can let some trusted friends and family know that you are planning to quit. Inform them of your quit date and ask for their support. Other than that, you can also seek help and guidance from hotlines that specialize in helping smokers kick the habit.
With the advancement of technology, smartphone apps have also been released. These apps come with varying features, from allowing you to log your cravings into a personal journal to connecting you with a community walking the same journey as you. Additionally, some of these apps may also help you track your progress, provide you with tips to manage your cravings, and allow you to set personalized goals for improvement.
As you plan for your start date, get rid of all the cigarettes and tobacco-related products in your car, office and home. Other than that, a cravings journal is also a fantastic way to keep track of what your triggers are and when you are most likely to experience cigarette cravings.
Once you’ve noted your triggers, try your best to avoid them. For instance, some people enjoy smoking while drinking. In that case, it is best to avoid alcohol by switching to non-alcoholic drinks. 
Other than that, it’s also a great idea to surround yourself with people who do not smoke. Choosing to spend your work breaks or after work hours with them may help you curb your cravings better. 
Lastly, you may wish to visit places where smoking is prohibited—for example, having a meal at a restaurant that does not allow smoking. Ultimately, you want to change your habits and routines that you know are strongly associated with cravings to smoke. 
Your healthcare professional will be able to provide you with advice on how you can best quit smoking. They may also recommend some medications that may help boost your chances of success by reducing withdrawal symptoms and combatting addiction.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can help alleviate cravings and reduce the symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal, such as bad mood, difficulty concentrating, or feeling anxious. 
NRT can come in different forms, such as patches, gums, sprays, chewing gums, and inhalers. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you determine if NRT is suitable for you and which form or dose is best for you. 
Besides that, other prescription medications such as bupropion and varenicline may also help smokers who intend to quit. 
When you quit smoking, you may experience weight gain, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depressed mood, restlessness, or difficulty sleeping. If any of these symptoms get distressing or worrying, talk to your healthcare professional. They can help you determine the best solution and devise a treatment plan to tackle those symptoms. 
Keeping yourself occupied is a great way to distract yourself from cravings. You may choose to exercise, go to a movie, read a magazine, listen to music, go to the gym, or have dinner in a smoke-free restaurant. 
In addition to that, you may also wish to find an oral substitute, such as mints, celery sticks, sunflower seeds, or drinking your favorite beverage with a straw.
Some relaxation techniques may also help combat frustration or stress linked to nicotine withdrawal. For example, you may wish to try out yoga, meditation, or practicing deep breathing exercises.
Smoking is undeniably a tough habit to quit. However, if you do slip up or relapse, don’t beat yourself up over it. Many people attempt to quit smoking several times before they stop for good.
The most important thing to do is learn from your previous experiences and discover which strategies work best for you. Those experiences may also point out triggers, so you can decide how to avoid or tackle them the next time you’re faced with them.
With the right guidance and support, you can quit smoking for a healthier heart and a healthier you!
This article is solely a guide. It does not replace the advice and recommendations given by your healthcare providers.