Last updated on 30th October, 2014

Smoking is one of the greatest causes of illness and premature death in the UK. It can create a number of problems not only for the smoker, but also for the people around them. Second hand smoke often leads to ill health in adults and can also harm young children and babies, increasing their risk of intense coughing, wheezing and asthmatic symptoms.

In July 2007, smoking was banned in the workplace and enclosed public spaces. This law is part of the Health Act 2006, which was established to introduce smoke-free environments for the benefit of all. With research showing that smoking accounts for more than one third of respiratory deaths and around one quarter of cancer deaths, the aim of this law is to benefit the life of the smoker and their colleagues in the workplace, with the goal of stopping smoking altogether.

It can be difficult to stop smoking, but the benefits are numerous. After one month of giving up your skin will seem clearer, after three to nine months your breathing will have improved and after one year the risk of a heart attack or heart disease will have fallen dramatically.

The NHS and other organisations have promoted quit smoking campaigns such as ‘Stoptober’ and ‘Go Smokefree’ to aid smokers in their fight to stop smoking. Other types of therapy, including counselling, have also proven successful when it comes to helping a smoker understand the effects of smoking on themselves, their family and their friends with the ultimate goal of stopping for good.

We often associate smoking with physical side effects, however this overview will also explore the social, financial and emotional effects that it can have.

Facts about smoking

According to statistics gathered by the public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH):

  • There are around 10 million smokers in Great Britain.
  • Around 60% of smokers say they would find it hard to last the entire day without smoking.
  • Tobacco smoke comprises of over 4,000 chemical compounds.
  • There are approximately 100,000 deaths a year in the UK that are directly linked to smoking related diseases.
  • For a long-term smoker, the life expectancy is 10 years less than that of a non-smoker.
  • Half of all regular smokers die of smoking-related diseases.
  • Smoking accounts for over one third of respiratory deaths, over one quarter of cancer deaths, and about one seventh of cardiovascular disease deaths.

Why do people smoke?

For quite some time a major effort has been underway to curb the world’s smoking habit. Laws are in place to prohibit smoking in certain areas, taxes on tobacco products continue to skyrocket and research highlighting the link between smoking and serious health issues continues to grow, yet still millions continue to smoke - but why? Below, we explore some of the reasons an individual might pick up their first cigarette:


Boredom can trigger a wide range of behaviours and habits, including smoking. The amount of excitement and novelty we require differs for each individual, which relates to how easily a person becomes bored.

Imitating parents

The habits of parents can influence their children. Research suggests a child is three times more likely to take up smoking if both parents smoke.


Smoking can start off as a form of self-expression and then develop into a habit. You might start smoking to stand out from the crowd, but the longer you continue the easier it is to become addicted.

Social acceptance

Social acceptance is a key factor in why people start smoking from a young age. If you are the only non-smoker among your friends, it can be hard to resist as you feel the pressure to join in.


Most adults quote stress as one of the main reasons they started or continue to smoke.

If you are a smoker, think back to when you first bought a packet of cigarettes. Did you know the effect that smoking addiction could have on you and the people around you? Were you aware that cigarettes could cause addiction?

For new smokers, information on the effects of smoking is easily available with smoking cessation services and therapy being more accessible than ever before.

Effects of smoking

According to NHS Choices, smoking increases the chance of you developing more than 50 health conditions. Here are a number of serious health conditions that can develop as a result of smoking:

Heart disease

Around one in six people develop heart disease due to smoking. It’s the biggest killer in the UK, causing approximately 120,000 deaths each year.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Approximately 25,000 people in the UK die each year from COPD. Around eight in 10 of these deaths are linked to smoking. This disease causes people to be extremely ill for several years before they pass away.

Lung cancer

In the UK, around 30,000 people die from lung cancer every year. Smoking causes eight out of 10 of these deaths.

Other cancers

Smokers also develop other cancers including cancer of the throat, mouth, larynx, nose, oesophagus, kidney, blood (leukaemia), and bladder.

Sexual problems

Smoking can lead to impotency and other sexual problems in middle life.


Long-term smoking harms fertility in both males and females.


Smoking increases the risk of hardening of the arteries, which is also known as atheroma. Atheroma is one of the primary causes of strokes and heart disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Smoking causes around one in five cases of rheumatoid arthritis, which causes inflammation of the joints.

Premature ageing

Smokers often develop more lines on their face at an early age, which can make them appear older than they actually are.


Women who smoke start menopause an average of two years before a non-smoker.

Other problems

Smoking can worsen the symptoms of the following conditions: asthma, chest infections, tuberculosis, chronic rhinitis, diabetic retinopathy, Crohn's disease and multiple sclerosis. It also increases the risk of developing a number of other conditions including osteoporosis, dementia, pulmonary fibrosis, optic neuropathy, psoriasis, gum disease and tooth loss.

Why should you stop smoking?

Stopping smoking can make a big difference to your overall health. The sooner you give up, the better you will feel.

If you have been smoking since you were a young adult and stop before the age of 35, your life expectancy is only marginally less than a non-smoker. If you were to stop before you hit 50, the chance of you developing a smoking-related disease is halved.

Reduced risk of heart attacks and lung cancer

After one year of being smoke free, the risk of having a heart attack decreases to half that of a smoker. After 10 years, the risk of lung cancer also decreases to half that of a smoker. After 15 years, the risk of having a heart attack falls to the same level as a non-smoker.

Helps to stop premature ageing

When you stop smoking, your facial ageing slows which delays the development of wrinkles. Ex-smokers also benefit from fresher breath, whiter teeth and are less likely to develop gum disease and lose their teeth prematurely.

Increased lung capacity

Within nine months of stopping smoking, you gain 10% of your lung capacity back. This may not necessarily be noticeable until you take part in an intensive sport or you go for a run.

Reduced stress levels

There is a common misconception that smoking decreases stress. The truth is, it only decreases stress when smoking a cigarette and for a short time afterwards. Between cigarettes, stress can actually be heightened due to cravings for the next fix. Removing this craving from your daily life helps to reduce stress, as you will no longer need to rely on smoking for instant relief.

Improved taste and smell

Another change many smokers will notice when they quit is a heightened sense of taste and smell. Around 4,000 chemical compounds in cigarettes dull your sense of taste, which will gradually return when you give up.

Stronger defence against cold and flu

After two weeks you will feel more energised as your circulation improves. It will be easier to fight off colds and flu, you will feel less tired and will even be less likely to suffer from headaches.

Improving the lives of others

As well as improving your own life, smoking cessation improves the lives of the people you live with. Children who live with smokers are three times more likely to develop lung cancer later in life, in comparison to children who live with non-smokers. So when you stop, the chances of the people you live with getting lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases dramatically drops.

The financial impact

If you smoke 20 cigarettes a day, you could save in excess of £2,000 a year when you give up.

The emotional impact

The emotional impact of smoking is often overlooked. There is always that constant nagging feeling that you need to stop, either from within or from increasing pressure from society.

A non-smoker may think that it's an easy habit to kick. The reality however is very different and many smokers find it incredibly difficult and often need support.

Help to stop smoking

On average, two in three smokers want to stop. This can be done in a variety of ways including individual behavioural counselling, group behavioural therapy, telephone counselling and quit helplines.

Behavioural therapy

Behavioural therapy is based on the way you behave and/or the way you think. The objective of these therapies is to positively change your behaviours and thoughts to overcome problems i.e. smoking.

Group behaviour therapy

Group behavioural therapy makes use of the group dynamic to change the way in which you behave. Having therapy in this way gives you the support of a group who have similar concerns to you.

Telephone counselling and quit helplines

Telephone counselling is accessible, affordable and can also be anonymous. It's becoming much more popular due to the increase in video conferencing software available on the Internet.  

One of the most important aspects that will help you succeed is support from others (both professional and personal).

Coping with your cravings

You may find it easier to quit smoking if you are in control of your cravings. Research has suggested that using sheer willpower alone might be too much of a task for some, so using a mixture of behavioural therapy and stop smoking medicines is often recommended to help you in the fight to give up.

A craving occurs when your body misses the regular hit of nicotine. Here are some examples:

  • The constant feeling in the back of your mind that you need a cigarette. This will decrease after the first few months of quitting.
  • Sudden urge that you need to smoke. These can be triggered by a cue. For example, if you always have a cigarette after dinner, as soon as you finish dinner you will get a craving. Other examples could be when you're stressed, angry or sad and you use a cigarette to relieve the stress of the situation.

You can tackle your cravings using nicotine replacement therapy, prescribed stop smoking medicine and behavioural changes.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) satisfies the nicotine cravings without the side effects you get with smoking a cigarette. This won’t give you the quick hit a cigarette does, but it can soothe these feelings you are having.

Stop smoking medicine

Prescription tablets are available that work on your brain to reduce the cravings rather than replacing the nicotine in your system.

Ask your doctor or stop-smoking counsellor to advise you on what medicines are available.

Behavioural changes

Smoking cessation behavioural changes aim to help you quit smoking for good, with the help of NRT and/or stop smoking medicines.

What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?

There are currently no laws in place stipulating what training and qualifications a counsellor must have in order to treat an addiction to smoking. However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has developed a set of guidelines that provide advice about the recommended treatments.

Overall NICE say those keen to quit smoking should be referred to an evidence-based cessation service to help them stop smoking. Those who have been referred should be offered behavioural support together with drug treatment.

With regards to behavioural treatment, NICE recommends individual counselling or group behavioural sessions. Alternatively, telephone counselling and quit helplines have also proved effective.

Read the full NICE guidelines:

Stop smoking interventions and services

There are several accredited courses, qualifications and workshops available to counsellors that can improve their knowledge of a particular area, so for peace of mind, you may wish to check to see if they have had further training in smoking cessation.

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