Ex-smokers are overwhelmingly happier after quitting according to a new Cancer Research UK study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research*.

Researchers studied the responses of 879 adults who had stopped smoking. More than two thirds (69.3 per cent) said that they feel happier now than when they were smoking and only one in thirty (3.3 per cent) felt less happy. Around a quarter (26.6 per cent) said they felt the same.

The length of time since quitting affected the level of happiness. Ex-smokers who had stopped more than a year ago reported feeling happier than ex-smokers who had stopped within the last year. Even among ex-smokers who had recently stopped a large majority felt happier than when they smoked.

Younger ex-smokers were also more likely to report feeling happier than older ex-smoker.

There was no difference in the level of happiness between ex-smokers who smoked heavily or those who smoked fewer cigarettes irrespective of age, sex, social group and time since giving up smoking.

Cancer Research UK’s Dr Lion Shahab, lead researcher based at the UCL Health Behaviour Research Centre, said: “There may be many reasons why ex-smokers say they’re happier now than when they were smokers, including self-justification. These results provide reassurance to would-be quitters that they will not only improve their physical health but that their quality of life is also likely to improve if they succeed in stopping smoking.”

“Most smokers would like to give up if they could. But for some, stopping isn’t simple. Previous research has shown that it generally takes more than one attempt to successfully quit. The important thing is that people keep trying.”

Elspeth Lee, Cancer Research UK’s head of tobacco control, said: “Smoking is very expensive. At today’s rates, smoking around twenty cigarettes a day for the next twenty years would cost over £40,000 – that’s over £2,000 from a smoker’s annual income. So giving up smoking makes you wealthier as well as healthier.

“But tobacco is a deadly addiction that costs smokers more than just money. Half of all long term smokers will die from the addiction, so quitting is one of the most important steps a smoker can take to improve their health.

“Preventing children from starting smoking is vital also. Putting tobacco out of sight in shops, getting rid of vending machines and wrapping cigarettes in plain packaging will all help to protect young people from the devastating influence of tobacco marketing. We’re calling on parliament to adopt these measures in the current Health Bill.”

For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.


* Do ex-smokers report feeling happier following cessation? Evidence from a cross-sectional survey

Smoking status was assessed by asking participants if they (a) smoked cigarettes (including hand-rolled) every day; (b) smoked cigarettes (including hand-rolled) but not every day; (c) did not smoke cigarettes at all but did smoke tobacco of some kind (e.g. pipe or cigar); (d) had stopped smoking completely in the last year; (e) had stopped smoking completely more than a year ago; or (f) had never been a smoker (i.e. smoked for a year or more).

Those participants who responded ‘yes’ to (d) or (e) were further asked which of the following statements best applied to them: ‘I feel happier now than when I was smoking’; ‘I feel about the same now as when I was smoking’; ‘I feel less happy now than when I was smoking’.

There are a lot of good reasons to quit smoking, whatever your age.

Giving up smoking at any age will increase life expectancy, provided you stop before you develop cancer or another serious disease.

The sooner you give up smoking the better. After:

  • 20 minutes – your blood pressure and pulse return to normal
  • 8 hours – nicotine, carbon monoxide and oxygen levels in your blood begin to return to normal
  • 2 days – your lungs start to clear and your sense of taste and smell begin to return
  • 3 days – breathing is easier and your energy levels increase
  • 2-12 weeks – circulation improves and exercise gets easier
  • 3-9 months – breathing problems, coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing improve
  • 5 years – risk of having a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker
  • 10 years – risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker. You have the same risk of a heart attack as someone who has never smoked.