How to quit smoking and improve COPD symptoms

Facts | 3/31/2021
How to quit smoking and improve COPD symptoms
If you smoke and receive a diagnosis of COPD, one of the first things your doctor may advise is to put down your cigarettes. Quitting is possible and it is the single best thing you can do for your lungs.

Can quitting smoking make a difference if I have COPD?

It’s never too late to quit. The risks associated with smoking are high for anyone, but especially for those with COPD. Smoking can both cause and aggravate COPD symptoms. Some 80 per cent of COPD deaths can be attributed to smoking.

If you want to lessen your COPD symptoms, giving up smoking has proven to be the single most effective way to make that happen. Quitting can also improve the effects of COPD treatment, such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids. And it will reduce your chances of developing lung cancer.

There are plenty of benefits to ditching the cigs, and although quitting won’t reverse or cure your COPD, it will slow down its progression. In fact, just 24 hours after your last cigarette, lung function improves and your body’s carbon monoxide levels return to normal.

What’s more, given the risks that COVID-19 poses to your lungs, the more you can do to save them from further harm the better.

How can I prepare to quit?

Discussing available options with your doctor is a good place to start. They’ll be able to give you compassionate and non-judgemental advice. If you are willing, it’s likely your clinician will want to build your efforts to quit smoking into your COPD treatment plan too, as this is something experts recommend. Your motivation could be strengthened by having a clear plan of action.

Your loved ones will probably be supporting you too, which can be a great source of help. This can be especially the case for people with COPD, who may find it harder to quit than the general population. Talking to friends and family about your plans to give up means they’ll be able to motivate you and help you avoid situations that might make giving up harder, such as being around other smokers.

Some people like to set a specific date to quit and prepare themselves ahead of time. Getting rid of any smoking accessories you have in the house can reduce temptation. Sometimes it’s helpful to focus on what is motivating you – maybe you could carry photos of your children, or save up for a holiday with the money you’d spend on cigarettes?

What is the best way to stop smoking?

While some lucky people may be able to quit abruptly, experts say the most effective way is to combine what are known as pharmacological methods (such as nicotine replacement therapies or medication) with behavioural approaches (such as counselling).

Patches, gum, tablets… the amount of products on the market to wean your body off nicotine can be overwhelming. But don’t worry, this means there is bound to be one that could work for you. If one doesn’t suit, another one might. Your doctor can take you through the options that are best for your situation and help you find something right for you.

These nicotine replacement products are most effective when they are used alongside behavioural support from trained professionals. It’s not just nicotine that contributes to cigarette addiction, but also habits and even genetics. A support group or stop-smoking counselling service can help you develop techniques to cope with psychological cravings and to break smoking habits. The internet has lots of great self-help resources, such as videos and blogs, that might inspire you.

It’s likely your doctor will regularly check in with you as you give up and they may do tests to measure how going smoke-free is benefitting your health. If you own a smartphone, there are lots of apps that can chart your progress too.

Don’t be disheartened if you do fall off the wagon. Relapses are a normal part of giving up and can be common during the first three to six weeks. Many people take a few attempts before giving up permanently. Just take it a day at a time. If you are motivated, then you can do it.

For anyone wanting to slow the progress of their COPD, giving up smoking may be one of the hardest things to do, but it is certainly one of the most effective. Good luck!

Have you managed to quit smoking? Contact us through’s Facebook and tell your story.

By Esther Beadle

Photo by iStock


Smoking and respiratory disease information sheet. Action on Smoking and Health - Ash (September 2020).

P. Tønnesen et al, Smoking cessation in patients with respiratory diseases: a high priority, integral component of therapy (2007) European Respiratory Journal Feb 2007, 29 (2) 390-417.

Smoking when you have a lung condition (C. Ruiz et al) for the European Lung Foundation.


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