Smoking Can Permanently Damage Your Immune System: Here’s Why and How You Should Quit Now

Most people already know how harmful cigarettes are. It’s most commonly associated with lung cancer, for example. As a result, a significant number of smokers have quit over the years. Yet many people still maintain smoking as a habit. 

If you’re one of them, you’ll want to take note of all the new effects researchers discover cigarettes have on your body. In late 2023, for example, the Washington University School of Medicine revealed that cigarette use can shrink the brain—essentially causing it to age prematurely

But that’s not all. More recent studies find that smoking can have dire, long-lasting effects on your immune system, making it especially crucial for you to quit smoking as soon as possible.  

How smoking damages the immune system 

In February 2024, immunology researchers from the Institut Pasteur in Paris found that cigarette use impacts the immune system on two levels. On one hand, it affects the body’s innate immune response—or how it fights germs in the short term. Smoking’s impact on this level goes away immediately after quitting. 

However, what is worrying is cigarettes’ effects on the immune system’s longer-lasting adaptive response, or its ability to remember threats and how to fight them off in the future. It’s the same response that reacts to vaccines, or weaker forms of a disease, to keep you from contracting conditions like the flu and COVID-19. Even if you quit smoking today, it can take years for your adaptive response to recover. 

That’s why the experts behind the study have one main takeaway for current smokers: the earlier you quit, the better. Doing so will give you a better chance of enjoying life with a robust immune system. 

Ways you can quit immediately 

Switch to nicotine alternatives

If you want to stop smoking as soon as possible for the sake of your immune system and overall health, you may be thinking of quitting cold turkey. However, this can be ineffective for at least 95% of the smokers who try it: withdrawal can get so powerful that it causes you to relapse. Instead, consider dropping cigarettes as soon as you can and quit gradually using tobacco-free nicotine alternatives. Our post on e-cigarettes, or vapes, notes they’re far less harmful to smoke. Unlike cigarettes, vapes from brands like VUSE don’t contain toxic chemicals known to cause cancer. They’re also used similarly to cigarettes, helping you combat both psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms. You can even taper your use over time since vape pods come with different levels of nicotine. Meanwhile, this page on nicotine pouches notes that they’re a great option used by simply tucking one in your mouth. Brands like ZYN offer pouches in various flavors and strengths, making them a similar option to vapes for helping you quit gradually. However, they’re smoke-free and discreet to use, which means you can use them often—a more convenient option for whenever withdrawal symptoms strike. 

Try prescription medications 

Heavier smokers may need a little extra help. Consulting your doctor can give you that, as they can prescribe you cessation medications like bupropion and varenicline. Bupropion, sold by brands like Wellbutrin, can be used with other quit-smoking methods to ease withdrawal symptoms. If you’re eligible, though, you may find varenicline more effective: it works on the brain to make smoking less enjoyable, making you not want to pick up cigarettes in the first place. These medicines must be taken at certain doses within a specific timeframe, so be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions if you want to quit smoking as soon as possible. 

Consider therapy 

If you want to figure out why you smoke in the first place, cognitive behavioral therapy can get to the root of your smoking habit—and help you eliminate it. Talking with a licensed therapist will establish your line of thinking before you pick up a cigarette. From there, sessions will focus on having you try healthier coping mechanisms than smoking for dealing with smoking triggers like stress and social situations. This kind of therapy isn’t inaccessible, either. Digital platforms like Quit Genius mean you can get effective professional support via telehealth and immediately start your quitting journey.

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