Healthy lives for young people
Wellbeing

Smoking and Vaping

It might seem like everyone smokes, and this may make you feel like you want to try it, but smoking is highly addictive and can cause serious health problems.  Find out more about the risks of smoking and how to quit.

 

What is smoking? 

Smoking is when someone burns tobacco, usually in the form of a cigarette, and breathes in the smoke.  

There can be lots of pressure from friends and people around you to smoke. It might seem like everyone does it, and this may make you feel like you want to try it.  

It is important to know, however, that smoking is highly addictive and can cause serious health problems, including cancer. Once you start, it can be really hard to stop. 

Nicotine (which is found in cigarettes) has been linked to anxiety, so it isn’t a harmless drug, and being addicted is often stressful and expensive.  

Addiction

Addiction is when someone does not have control over taking something, even though it is harming them or they want to stop. Addiction can be chemical or behavioural, and is often a mixture of both.   

Read more about addiction here.

Health risks 

It’s easy to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter when you’re young and that you’ll quit soon, but there are many health risks that can begin to affect you from when you start smoking: 

  • Studies have shown that early signs of heart disease and stroke can be found in teenagers who smoke. 
  • Someone who starts smoking at 15 is three times more likely to die from cancer than someone who starts smoking in their mid-20s. 
  • Half of all adult smokers will die early of smoking related illness such as heart disease or lung cancer. 
  • Smoking can harm your fertility and increases the chances of complications during pregnancy and labour. Smokers’ babies are also more at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Vaping 

E-cigarettes/vapes are devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol that the person then inhales. The liquid usually has nicotine and flavouring in it, and other additives. E-cigarettes are considered tobacco products because most of them contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco. 

Although there is still not a huge amount of information on the long term effects of e-cigarettes, they are known to have some risks, and they are considered unsafe for young people under 20. This is because: 

  • Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s. 
  • E-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances besides nicotine, such as diacetyl which is a chemical linked to serious lung disease. 
  • Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future. 

However, according to the NHS, vapes are significantly less harmful than tobacco, because they do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most damaging elements in tobacco smoke. Research has found that vaping poses only a fraction of the risks of smoking, and switching completely from smoking to vaping can offer substantial health benefits. 

E-cigarettes and vaping devices can be useful if you are trying to quit, however it is inadvisable to start vaping if you are not already a smoker as the nicotine in them is addictive.  

Read more about using e-cigarettes to quit smoking.  
Find out more about the risks and benefits of e-cigarettes.  

Benefits of quitting 

Physical Health 

The sooner you quit, the sooner you’ll notice changes to your body and health. This is what happens when you stop smoking: 

After 20 minutes: Your pulse rate will already be starting to return to normal. 

After 8 hours: Your oxygen levels will be recovering, and the harmful carbon monoxide level in your blood will have reduced by half. 

After 48 hours: All carbon monoxide will have been flushed out. Your lungs will be clearing out mucus and your senses of taste and smell will be improving. 

After 72 hours: Your breathing will feel easier because your bronchial tubes will have started to relax. Also, your energy will be increasing. 

After 2 to 12 weeks: Blood will be pumping through to your heart and muscles much better because your circulation will have improved. 

After 3 to 9 months: Any coughs, wheezing or breathing problems will be improving as your lung function increases by up to 10%. 

After 1 year: Your risk of heart attack will have halved compared with a smoker’s. 

After 10 years: Your risk of death from lung cancer will have halved compared with a smoker’s. 

Mental Health 

Most smokers say they want to stop, but some continue because smoking seems to relieve stress and anxiety

It’s a common belief that smoking helps you relax. But smoking actually increases anxiety and tension. In fact, smokers are also more likely than non-smokers to develop depression over time. 

It can feel relaxing to smoke because smoking cigarettes interferes with certain chemicals in the brain. When smokers haven’t had a cigarette for a while, the craving for another one makes them feel irritable and anxious. These feelings can be temporarily relieved when they have a cigarette, meaning they associate the improved mood with smoking, when in fact it’s the effects of smoking itself that’s likely to have caused the anxiety in the first place. 

Cutting out smoking does improve mood and reduces anxiety. When people stop smoking, studies show: 

  • Anxiety, depression and stress levels are lower. 
  • Quality of life and positive mood improve. 
  • The dosage of some medicines used to treat mental health problems can be reduced. 

Money 

Smoking is very expensive, so if you quit you’ll save yourself a fortune. If you smoke 10 a day, you’ll save around £112 a week, which is £1,340 in a year and £13,396 over 10 years! Use this tool to work out how much money you’d save by quitting smoking

Environment 

Quitting smoking is good for the planet.  

Deforestation due to tobacco production accounts for nearly 5% of overall deforestation in the developing world. 

Did you know…?

Cigarettes make up one third of collected litter. Cigarette filters are made of plastic, which doesn’t break down for a very long time. When thrown away, cigarette filters often end up in waterways and oceans. They also release the nicotine, heavy metals, and many other chemicals they’ve absorbed into the surrounding environment. 

Get help stopping smoking 

If you decide to try stopping smoking or vaping, here are some tips to help you.  

  • Contact your local stop smoking service, which provides the best chance of stopping completely and forever. 
  • Find a friend to quit at the same time as you, so you can support each other through the process.  
  • Get ready for a few difficult days; most people find that the first few days after quitting are the hardest, however most of your withdrawal symptoms should subside after the first four weeks. 
  • Whatever your age, don’t be afraid to ask your GP for help stopping smoking. They won’t be shocked that you’re a smoker and will be there to help. 
  • See this helpful NHS guide, which explains the options available for stopping smoking and the likelihood of success from each option. 
  • See a stop smoking expert. It’s free and will increase your chances of quitting for good. You can talk about which stop smoking aids will work best for you, and they can provide additional support such as advice on managing cravings. They can also talk to you about the stop smoking medicines that are available on prescription. 

Remember, if you’re not as successful as you want to be, you’ll still have learnt something to help you next time. The more comfortable you are using the support available, the better prepared you’ll be for stopping completely next time. 

If you take antipsychotic medicines or antidepressants, it’s important you talk to your GP or psychiatrist before you stop smoking; the dosage of these medicines may need to be monitored and the amount you need to take could be reduced. 

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