Quit Smoking Timeline: What Happens When You Quit?

If you know someone making a big push to quit smoking, you’ll also know that they’ll need your support. Even if they have tried and not been successful before, your help could make all the difference this time.

Make this a shared journey, not a burden born only by the quitter. To do this, you’ll need to do your own preparation about the road to a smoke-free life, and the challenges that your friend or family member could be facing along the way.

What’s more, as you learn about quit smoking timelines, you’ll know more about the positive progress your loved one is making. You may be surprised at just how soon these former smokers can realize the benefits of quitting.

Armed with this information, you can turn your knowledge into encouragement and understanding at exactly the right time.

20 minutes after quitting:

When someone smokes, nicotine will cause a short-term increase in blood pressure and heart rate. It will cause the arteries to narrow as well.[1]

Within 20 minutes after quitting smoking, the heart rate will drop. Blood pressure and pulse will return to normal.[2] 

2 hours after you quit smoking:

This is when the going starts to get tough. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms typically start around this timeframe.[3] These include: intense cravings, anxiety, tension, or depression, irritability, headaches, among others.[4] The good news is that these symptoms are temporary, and they generally begin to fade within the next three or four weeks.[5]

If you are on the receiving end of any grumpiness over the next couple of weeks, don’t take it personally. This is all part of the process, and make sure both of you know that this is just a temporary part of the quit journey.

8 hours after you quit smoking:

Eight hours in and blood oxygen level will have increased to normal, while carbon monoxide and nicotine levels have fallen by half.[6] The carbon monoxide found in cigarettes is responsible for reducing your blood flow. This chemical also increases the amount of fatty acids, glucose, and various hormones in your blood stream when someone smokes.[7]

24 hours after you quit smoking:

If you’re looking for signs of encouragement to give a smoker one day into quitting, try this: after one full day of quitting smoking, your risk of heart attack will rapidly drop.[8]

Those who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than non-smokers.[9] And according to the National Cancer Institute, people who smoke are up to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack.

48 hours after you quit smoking:

More progress to celebrate: after 48 hours the body is nicotine free.[10] This is your opportunity to point out other signs of progress in your quitter. Have they noticed their ability to taste and smell has improved?[11]

Smoking can dull the senses and as early as 48 hours into a quit attempt, the improvement can be noticeable.

One week in:

This is huge. Studies suggest that smokers who make it through the first seven days are nine times more likely to be successful in the long term.[12] Since your encouragement is a major part of the process, consider celebrating in some way, either an activity or a gift to mark making it seven days.

2-3 weeks after you quit smoking:

Feel like getting active? After 2-3 weeks, someone who has quit smoking should notice benefits in their breathing, as their lungs relax, as well as improvements in circulation and higher energy levels.

Help them make the most of this new found capacity together whether it’s walking, going to the gym, or playing sports.

One year after you quit smoking:

This is a huge milestone! After a year of being smoke-free, your risk of coronary heart disease is cut in half.[13]

Coronary heart disease occurs when plaque builds up in your arteries. Over time, this can lead to chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmias, or in extreme cases, even death.[14]