Disability News


Quittin’ Time: How Long will it Take my Lungs to Heal from Smoking?

How Long will it take my Lungs to Heal after Smoking?

For individuals who smoke, fatalities due to cardiovascular, cancerous causes, or respiratory illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are notably higher than for those who don’t smoke. The consensus is clear: quitting smoking decreases the risk of death.

A recent study was released by Blake Thomson, Ph.D., and Fahrad Islami, MD, PhD, from the American Cancer Society’s Department of Surveillance and Health Equity Science in Atlanta, Georgia, They shared their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

To ascertain the timeline for this decrease, clinical researchers examined interview responses and mortality figures from 438,015 adult residents of the US from 1997 until the close of 2019.

What were their conclusions? The study indicated that the death risk for former smokers aligns with lifelong nonsmokers after 30 years.

Life After Smoking

In total, 11,860 cardiovascular, 10,935 cancer, and 2060 respiratory deaths were analyzed over more than 5 million patient-years. From these numbers, the death risks for persistent smokers were:

  • 2.3 (cardiovascular)
  •  3.4 (cancer), and
  •  13.3 (respiratory) times greater than for lifelong nonsmokers.

Within 10 years of quitting smoking, the following was observed:

  • The risk of dying from heart-related issues decreased 1.47 times, compared to nonsmokers (36% decrease compared to smokers);
  •  The risk of dying from cancer decreased 2.13 times, compared to nonsmokers (47% decrease compared to smokers);
  •  The risk of dying from respiratory issues decreased by 6.35 times, compared to nonsmokers (43% decrease compared to smokers).

Within 20 years of quitting smoking, the following was observed:

In the second decade post-cessation, the risk continued to decline. The researchers noted these patterns:

  • The risk of cardiovascular death decreased 1.26 times.;
  •  The risk of cancer death decreased 1.59 times.; and
  •  The risk of respiratory death decreased 3.63 times — all compared to nonsmokers.

Within 30 years of quitting smoking, the following was observed:

In the third decade after quitting, the risk kept diminishing. The patterns were:

  • The risk of cardiovascular death decreased 1.07 times.;
  •  The risk of cancer death decreased 1.34 times; and
  •  The risk of respiratory death decreased by 2.34 times, compared to nonsmokers.

Only after over 30 years of abstinence was the risk of cardiovascular death 0.96, thus not significant anymore. Relative to nonsmokers, the risk of cancer death was 1.16, and respiratory death was 1.31.

Hence, ex-smokers can lower their risk of cardiovascular death by 100%, cancer-related by 93%, and respiratory-related death by 97%.

What Does this all Mean?

Simply put, smokers gain more the longer they abstain from tobacco. “Quitting smoking earlier in life yields greater benefits,” the doctors noted. Yet, even within the first decade, the examined death risks dropped by a significant 36% (cardiovascular) to 47% (cancer-related).

A Possible Underestimation?

One drawback we see with the study is that it relied on self-reported questionnaires for participant data. Consequently, individuals could have understated their tobacco use, especially as these surveys are often completed retrospectively, as the authors suggest. Moreover, some individuals who claimed to have quit smoking might have only reduced their intake. In any event, both scenarios would likely make the study’s findings more pronounced compared to the actual situation, thus potentially more favorable.


The recent study underscores a critical message: it’s never too late to quit. The findings, revealing a significant decrease in cardiovascular, cancer, and respiratory mortality within the first decade of quitting, affirm the body’s remarkable ability to heal.

While the journey to recovery begins immediately, the path to aligning with the mortality rates of never-smokers is a gradual one, extending over decades. This research not only reinforces the importance of quitting smoking at any stage of life but also emphasizes the role of primary care physicians in guiding and supporting patients through this transformative journey.

As we move forward, understanding that cessation is a powerful step toward health restoration, not an instant fix, is crucial. The study’s insights into the prolonged risks even after quitting highlight the need for continued medical vigilance and tailored care for former smokers. Ultimately, this research serves as a compelling call to action for individuals and healthcare providers alike, emphasizing that the decision to quit smoking today could be the most significant step toward a healthier tomorrow.

About the Author

Matt Lalande

Matt Lalande is a Long-Term Disability Litigator in Hamilton, Ontario. Matt is a founder partner of and serves disabled people nationwide who’s long-term disability benefits or have been wrongly denied or terminated.


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