a woman clinging desperately to a cigarette while being pulled into a tunnel.

Are There Any Risks to Quitting Smoking?

We all know of the great benefits that come with quitting smoking. From reducing premature death to saving a considerable amount of money, there are clear advantages to quitting smoking. However, the risks of quitting are not always discussed. While I am a big proponent of smoking cessation, I also value open dialogue outlining risks in addition to benefits. This allows people to make informed decisions.

Why discuss risks?

Smoking kills over 7 million people in the world each year.1 To put that number in perspective, COVID has taken the life of 4.6 million people worldwide as of September 11, 2021.2 Despite significant evidence that people who stop smoking reduce the risk of premature death, many people continue to smoke. In order to properly assist people with quitting smoking, we must also acknowledge the risks of nicotine cessation.

Nicotine withdrawal

The number one reason why it is hard to give up smoking is because of the unpleasant nicotine withdrawal symptoms. If you have unsuccessfully tried to quit smoking, understand that it is not your fault;  nicotine it is a powerful substance. Expected nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:3

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling restless
  • Having troubles focusing
  • Strong craving for nicotine
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Sweating

These unpleasant symptoms usually reach a high at 3 days post-cessation and then gradually decrease over a 4-week period.3 Thankfully, there are products available that reduce these side effects, such as nicotine replacement therapies.

Mouth ulcers

Some people who quit smoking may find that they have an increased number of mouth ulcers. About 40% of people develop these mouth ulcers in the first 2 weeks after stopping.4 These usually resolve on their own after a few weeks.5 Over-the-counter products and prescription products may be used to numb the area so that these first few weeks are more tolerable.

Depression and anxiety

People may feel blue or anxious shortly after they stop smoking. Others may experience mood swings. These mood changes have been reported to be more significant in people who have a history of coexisting mental health conditions.6 However, just like nicotine withdrawal symptoms, these symptoms most often resolve over a few weeks after quitting.

Weight gain

Weight gain may occur after quitting smoking as a result of increased appetite. The average weight gain that is expected is 1-2 kg in the first 14 days, up to a total weight gain of 4-5 kg over a period of 5 months.7 Working with a doctor or dietician can help address these concerns. In addition, connecting with a friend to establish good habits, such as taking evening strolls, can help your mood in addition to weight management.

It is temporary

Overall, the benefits of quitting smoking far outweigh these symptoms. While not all of these effects of smoking cessation are temporary, the vast majority resolve over a period of a few weeks. If you are struggling with smoking cessation, a gentle reminder that you will not always feel this way. Speaking with a healthcare professional with experience in supporting individuals with smoking cessation can help increase your chances of success.

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