The health benefits of quitting smoking can begin as early as 20 minutes after the last cigarette, the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) has said.
It is highlighting the many health and financial benefits of quitting the habit, the effects of which kill around 6,000 people every year in Ireland.
"The benefits of quitting happen almost immediately, even 20 minutes after that last cigarette. Your blood pressure and pulse return to normal, while the risk of heart attack begins to fall just one day later," explained IHF medical director, Dr Angie Brown.
Currently, one in two smokers in Ireland will die of a tobacco-related disease, while many will suffer ill health as a result. Prior to COVID, there were 1,000 smoking-related hospital admissions in Ireland every week.
"Nicotine from cigarettes provides a temporary and addictive high and given that nicotine is a highly addictive drug, smokers can find quitting extremely difficult and often fall back into old habits. This means smoking tobacco is both a physical addiction and a psychological habit," Dr Brown noted.
However, she emphasised that quitting significantly reduces the risk of life-threatening diseases, and also offers a range of other benefits.
"It improves your sense of taste and smell. You will have better skin, teeth and hair and you will instantly save money. Smoking 20 cigarettes a day costs almost €5,000 a year," she said.
Dr Brown reminded people that if they want to quit the habit, "there is valuable help out there". The HSE's Quit service is Ireland's dedicated smoking cessation service and smokers can avail of a number of supports and resources there.
According to research by the HSE, 79% of people who smoke intend to quit the habit and those who manage to stop smoking for 28 days are five times more likely to quit for good. It is urging people to stop smoking for the month of March.
"Most people who smoke want to quit but for many, the idea of quitting can seem like a big hill to climb. An important step that people often miss out on is the preparation. Setting a date to quit and equipping yourself with the information, tools and supports you need to quit will make a huge difference," explained Martina Blake, national lead of the HSE Tobacco Free Ireland Programme.
She urged people to get in touch with the Quit service now and get ready to quit on March 1.
"If you have quit before, you know that you can do it again and this time for good. Finding out about stop smoking medicines and the options available to you gives you the best chance of quitting for good," she noted.
This March, 12 'Quit leaders' nationwide will be quitting smoking with support from the Quit service. One of these leaders is Colm Hiney.
"Myself and my partner have just recently had a little baby girl and I want to give them up for her. I want to be a healthy and active father for her. I have tried numerous times before and stress has pushed me back to them. I want to join the Quit leaders this March because I feel with the support of the other leaders and the HSE Quit service, I will be able to push through this time and quit for good," he explained.
Meanwhile, according to Dr Paul Kavanagh, a public health medicine specialist with the HSE, smokers are also at an increased risk from COVID.
"Those who smoke are at higher risk of becoming more ill from COVID-19 including hospital admission, ICU admission and death. Stopping smoking is the single most important thing you can do for your health, for your future and for your loved ones," he said.
The HSE QUIT service provides personalised, free support by phone, email, SMS and live chat. Smokers can call 1800 201 203 or visit www.QUIT.ie for tips and resources, a free QUIT Kit, and to create a QUIT plan. Peer-to-peer support is available on the QUIT Facebook Page www.facebook.com/HSEQUIT or on Twitter at HSE QUIT @HSEQuitTeam #TheLastStop #QuitandWin.
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