Quitting and coronavirus


Since the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, our teams have been asked a number of questions about COVID-19 and smoking.

Studies show people who smoke are generally at higher risk of respiratory tract infections—such as lung and chest infections. However, to date, there is currently not enough evidence to prove that people who smoke are at higher risk of being infected with COVID-19. Evidence has shown though that people with poor lung function (as a result of smoking or anything else) may be at higher risk of complications if they do become infected with the virus.

If you have quit smoking and want to know how COVID-19 could affect you, it’s currently not clear how long a person needs to have stop smoking to reduce their risk of these complications.

During these times, it’s important to remember stopping smoking has many benefits beyond any link with COVID-19, and it’s always a good time to quit.


Below, we answer the most commonly asked questions on this topic to help you make informed decisions, keep up-to-date, and quit.

Q. Are people who smoke at more risk of getting COVID-19?

A. While there currently isn’t enough evidence to be certain that people who smoke are more likely to be infected by COVID-19, we do know that they are at a higher risk of getting lung and chest infections in general. What does this mean? It means that people who smoke are more likely than not to have a higher risk of getting COVID-19 compared to people who don’t smoke.

Q. Are people who smoke more likely to have severe complications if they do become infected with COVID-19?

A. There is growing evidence to suggest that people who smoke are likely to be more severely impacted by COVID-19 if they do become infected. This is because smoking damages the lungs so that they don’t work as well. For example, lungs naturally produce mucus, but people who smoke have more and thicker mucus that is hard to clean out of the lungs. This mucus clogs the lungs and is prone to becoming infected. Smoking also affects the immune system, making it harder to fight infection.

Q. What if I previously smoked? Am I still at risk when it comes to COVID-19?

A. It’s not currently known if former smokers have a higher risk of becoming infected compared to people who have never smoked. Studies show that people who smoke are at increased risk of lung infections in general, but the lungs do heal relatively rapidly when people stop smoking. It’s not yet known how long is long enough to reduce the risk to match someone who has never smoked.
If you previously smoked and have now quit, it’s likely you’ll have a lower risk of severe complications (if you were to be infected) than you would have if you were still smoking.

Q. How long do people have to have stopped smoking to reduce their risk of infection with COVID-19 or complications from COVID-19?

A. This is not currently known for COVID-19 specifically, but it’s well-established that stopping smoking improves lung function within a few months. Rates of lung infections like bronchitis and pneumonia also decrease.

Q. Where can I get the best support to stop smoking?

A. The best thing you can do for your health at any time is to stop smoking. And the best way to stop smoking is to use a tailored quit counselling service such as Quitline 13 78 48, plus nicotine replacement therapy, for instance nicotine patches and gum. Quitline counsellors are available Mon – Friday 8.30 am – 8.00 pm Monday to Friday and 2.00 pm to 5.00 pm Saturday and provide personalised, non-judgemental and empathetic support to help you quit, including information on the types of nicotine replacement therapy available.


Quitline is an inclusive and culturally safe space for all. There is also an Aboriginal Quitline for people who smoke identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. To access Aboriginal Quitline, call 13 78 48 and ask to speak with one of our friendly and qualified Aboriginal Quitline counsellors. We also have an interpreter service available if you speak a language other than English.

Explore our website at www.quitlinesa.org.au for more info, tips and tools to help you wherever you are along your quitting journey.

Stop nicotine cravings

8 ways to stop nicotine cravings

When you are quitting smoking it is important to remember that cravings only last a short time—sometimes a minute or less—but they can be extremely powerful. The next time a craving hits, work your way through this list of activities until it passes, and know that there is always support available to you on 13 78 48 or www.quitlinesa.org.au.

  1. Drink a glass of water

Drinking a glass of water is also a really helpful way to substitute the habit of smoking: every time you feel like smoking, drink a glass of water instead. Not only will this help to change your habit into something healthier, but it can also help to rehydrate the body and counteract that nicotine craving.

  1. Practise calming exercises

Withdrawal of nicotine can make you feel restless, stressed, or even panicked, and breathing exercises can alleviate these feelings as you take back control of how your body is responding. You may like to try these different techniques, repeating or continuing until you feel the craving leave you.

  • Inhale through the nose for three seconds. Exhale through the mouth for three seconds.
  • Close your eyes and focus on one thing—something you can hear, or something you can feel on your skin.
  • Close your eyes and visualise a favourite place.
  1. Distract yourself

If you have a favourite hobby, this can be a good way to focus your mind on something other than smoking. If not, you can always walk around the block, go for a drive, or play a game. www.quitlinesa.org.au has some great distractions.

  1. Call Quitline

Quitline counsellors know how to help you get through a craving, whether you’re looking for a distraction, a practical strategy, or just someone to vent to. Pick up the phone and call 13 78 48 next time you feel a craving coming on. Alternatively you can visit www.quitlinesa.org.au anytime for distractions or to register for a callback.

  1. Go for a walk

Exercise is an amazing way to manage any cravings for a number of reasons. Firstly, it physically removes you from the temptation of the nearest cigarette. Secondly, physical activity releases endorphins (your body’s feel-good hormones) that can help to calm you and make you feel better as you ride out your craving. And finally, a change of scenery can be all it takes to help change your train of thought away from smoking and toward other things.

  1. Message a friend

Reach out to a trusted friend if you’re feeling tempted. Perhaps you’ve discussed with them that you will message when you’re going through a craving, or just call them and say you need to have a chat to distract yourself. If they don’t answer, give Quitline a call.

  1. Listen to music

It doesn’t matter what music you listen to, the type of music you have on hand is up to you and how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling tense, listen to something soothing. If you’re restless, it might help to listen to something more upbeat as you move around.

  1. Go to a smoke free space

Whether you’re at home on the couch, or you’re in an area around other smokers, going to a smoke free space can be a big help when you’re going through a craving. Is there a library or a cinema nearby that you can go to? Meet a friend for a coffee or head to the beach or a park.

quitline quit smoking

Hear from an Aboriginal Quitline Counsellor

Karl Rashleigh is an Aboriginal Quitline Counsellor here at Quitline SA.

He knows that there’s a bigger picture when you’re giving up the smokes—relationships, history, and many other factors can get in the way. He can offer tailored support by listening to your story, having a yarn about smoking, and working with you on a plan to cut down or quit.

It only takes one call to start your quitting journey.

Want to learn more?

Call Quitline 13 7848 or visit www.quitlinesa.org.au today.


Is third-hand smoke as bad as smoking?

Have you ever been accosted by the stale scent of cigarette smoke when there is not a smoker in sight? Welcome to the world of third-hand smoke.

We all know that smoking is extremely bad for your health and second-hand smoke can also be harmful in many ways, so here’s something completely new: researchers suggest that third-hand smoke is deadly as well.

What is third-hand smoke?

Third-hand smoke is the residue that lingers on surfaces and in dust particles months or even years after tobacco has been smoked. Cigarette smoke seeps into everything—clothing, furniture, car upholstery and rugs.

Smoke accumulates on surfaces, reacts with the air, and changes into carcinogenic chemicals. Researchers exposed mice to these carcinogens, and the results were alarming. Within one month of exposure to third-hand smoke, the researchers began detecting harmful effects on the mice including: cell damage to the liver, cell damage to the brain, increased cortisol levels, weakened immune system, and increased insulin resistance.

Traditional cleaning methods are not effective at removing the toxic residue. The toxins that make up cigarette residue have a different reaction to cleaning products, which can make it hard to eradicate pollutants.

Children and pets are at greater risk

Babies crawl on the floor and often put things in their mouths. This means they are at greater risk. Not only are their developing brains particularly susceptible to toxins, babies and children are closer to contaminated surfaces such as carpet and tend to ingest twice the amount of dust that adults do. Studies have shown a link between exposure to tobacco toxins and sudden infant death syndrome.

Pets, like children, spend a lot of time on or close to the floor where smoke residue can concentrate in house dust, carpets, and rugs. The residue on the animal’s fur could be ingested when they groom themselves.

Is third-hand smoke as bad as smoking?

Based on the evidence, we can agree that third-hand smoke contributes significant harm but it’s still too early to quantify the risk and researchers have not proven that third- hand smoke is as bad as smoking.

But there’s no need to wait for further evidence; we know it’s bad. The safest thing to do for your children, other family members, pets, and guests is to have a zero tolerance policy for smoking in your home and in your vehicle.

How long does it take for nicotine to leave the body after I quit?

Nicotine is the addictive chemical found in in tobacco, and while there are thousands of chemicals in a cigarette, nicotine is the one that keeps you hooked. Whenever you smoke a cigarette, chew tobacco or inhale secondhand smoke, nicotine is absorbed into your bloodstream.

When someone quits smoking, often one of the first things they want to know is how long it will take before nicotine will leave their system. For most people, once you quit smoking, nicotine can still be detected in the bloodstream for between one and three days; however, it can still be present for up to 10 days in some people. This difference is due to the way nicotine is processed in the body and can depend on a number of factors, such as on the person’s metabolism, or other medication they may be on. There are a variety of things you can do to speed the process of nicotine leaving your body after you quit.

In an average cigarette, there is approximately 10 mg of nicotine. Of this, only about 1 mg is actually absorbed into the body. Once absorbed, enzymes in your liver break most of the nicotine down to become cotinine. This by-product cotinine can be detected in your body for longer (sometimes weeks) and it is eventually eliminated through your kidneys as urine.

nicotine in the body

  1. Nose and mouth – Nicotine is absorbed through the lining of the nose and mouth into the bloodstream. Nicotine can alter taste buds so food tastes different.
  2. Lungs – Inhaled nicotine also passes through the lungs into the bloodstream. This can result in abnormal tightening of the airways, production of phlegm and coughing.
  3. Heart – As the nicotine moves around the body through the bloodstream, it goes through the heart causing an increase in blood pressure and increased heart rate.
  4. Brain – In 10-20 seconds the nicotine reaches the brain to stimulate the release of neurotransmitters adrenaline and dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that causes feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.
  5. Nerves – Nicotine can reduce the activity of some nerves leading to a decrease in muscle tone.
  6. Stomach – Nicotine can stimulate the stomach resulting in nausea and vomiting, although people quickly develop a tolerance to this effect. It can also reduce appetite.
  7. Liver – Nicotine is metabolised by the liver into a byproduct called cotinine.
  8. Kidneys – Nicotine is filtered by the kidneys to be excreted in urine.

Another interesting fact is that traces of nicotine can actually be found in your hair follicles for up to three months.

skin can be found in hair follicles

People often wonder why they still experience craving even after the nicotine has left the body. In fact, it’s because the nicotine has gone that your body is reacting this way—it’s craving the nicotine that is no longer there. In time, your body will adjust to not having nicotine and the cravings will disappear usually after the first week or two.

Quitline - receptors in the brain

Smoking cigarettes/using tobacco causes nicotine to enter the brain’s reward centre, meaning it makes you feel good for a short time. The process is designed to reward us for positive behaviours like eating and drinking, but often occurs in response to things that are not so good. When you quit smoking – the brain thinks you have removed something good for you and takes time to adjust, which results in cravings for a while after you stop.

You may, however, experience cravings many months or even years down the track. These are normally associated with an emotional trigger such as stress. Once you identify your own triggers, you’ll be able to avoid them, prepare for cravings, and develop strategies to help you overcome them.

Factors affecting processing of nicotine
There are several factors that influence how long it takes for your body to ‘flush out’ nicotine, including:

  • Age
    Older people generally take longer to remove nicotine.
  • Genes
    Research suggests that Asian-Americans and African-Americans may metabolise nicotine more slowly than Caucasian or Hispanic people.
  • Hormones
    Sex hormones like estrogen may help metabolise nicotine more quickly. That means that women, particularly those who are consuming estrogen hormones or who are pregnant, will remove nicotine more quickly than men.
  • Liver function
    Liver enzymes may play a role in metabolising nicotine.
  • Medications
    Some antibiotics can speed up nicotine metabolism, while others, like amlodipine (medication for high blood pressure) can slow it down.

Speeding up nicotine elimination

There are several things you can do to speed up the process of nicotine elimination:

  • Drink Water
    The more water you drink, the more you urinate to release nicotine.
  • Exercise
    Physical activity increases your metabolism. As you burn energy, you also ‘burn’ nicotine as you sweat.
  • Eat antioxidant-rich foods
    Antioxidants boost your metabolism, and fibre can also help remove toxins, so look for foods like oranges and carrots.

Nicotine replacement

Using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) can increase your chances of quitting by 50 to 70 per cent. However, if you opt to use NRT, you will still have detectable amounts of nicotine in your body until you cease all nicotine exposure. The positive news though is that you will not be exposed to the thousands of other toxic chemicals present in tobacco smoke. NRTs come in a variety of forms, including Patches, Gums, Lozenges, Inhalators and Nasal Sprays, providing you a way to slowly reduce your nicotine intake until you are ready to give it up for good.

nicotine replacements quitline

Return to top

Quitline - what to expect when I call

What can I expect when I call Quitline?

When you call Quitline 13 7848, an experienced Quitline Counsellor will answer. Maybe you’re thinking about quitting in the future and want some more information, or you’re looking for practical strategies to quit today. Quitline counsellors aren’t there to judge, or to tell you what to do—they can offer information, support, or just listen to what you’re going through. You can even call if you want to talk to someone about how to help someone you love quit smoking.

Hear from Counsellors Madaline and Anastasia about what you can expect when you call Quitline.

Want to learn more?

Call Quitline 13 7848 or visit www.quitlinesa.org.au today.

Return to top

never too late to quit smoking

Is it ever too late to quit smoking?

The human body is an incredible thing, and you may be surprised at just how quickly you will begin to feel the health benefits of quitting smoking—like breathing easier, having more energy, and even being less irritable. No matter how old you are, quitting smoking will bring benefits to your body.

What are the benefits of quitting today?

Whether you’ve been smoking for one year or 50, there are immediate and long-term benefits of quitting.

  • You reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer
  • Your circulation and lung function improve
  • You prevent further damage from emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • You have more stamina and energy

Maybe you’ve smoked for as long as you can remember, and you’re thinking that the damage has already been done to your body—it is too late for me?

The simple answer is no—it’s never too later to quit smoking, because your body starts to recover the day you quit.

Check out the timeline of healing to see just how fast your body will start to repair itself.

If you’ve tried quitting before and have started smoking again, it may be that the strategy didn’t work for you this time, or maybe you didn’t have enough support or motivation to keep you going.

That’s where Quitline can help. Our counsellors can chat about your whole experience and history of smoking to suggest different ways to quit that may better suit you. They’re here to listen and help you but will never tell you what to do.

Each quitting attempt is a milestone in itself, and you can learn valuable lessons about what works and what doesn’t each time. A set-back does not mean you have failed. You can learn from it and start again when you feel ready.

Anne had been smoking for 50 years but successfully quit with the support of Quitline. As she says, “If I can do it after 50 years, anyone can!”

Read more about Anne’s journey here.

It’s never too late to call Quitline 13 78 48 or visit www.quitlinesa.org.au to better your health and future.

what quitline can offer health professionals

What can Quitline offer to health professionals?

Health professionals can think of Quitline as an additional quitting resource, who are always available for support. Whether you’re a GP, specialist, or community support worker, you can help your clients take the first step on their quitting journey by referring them to Quitline 13 7848.

Brief interventions work—it only takes a few minutes to start a life-saving conversation.

Hear from Karissa Woolfe, Primary Health Care Engagement Officer at Cancer Council SA, about how Quitline can help health professionals.

You can refer a client at any time, just visit http://quitlinesa.org.au/helping-others-to-quit/helping-your-patients-and-clients/refer-a-client-to-quitline/

Want to learn more?

Call Quitline 13 7848 today.

Return to top

How your body heals after you quite smoking
Go to content

How your body heals after you quite smoking

How your body heals after you quit smoking

There’s no better time than now to quit smoking, because your body will immediately start to repair itself. And the longer you remain a non-smoker, the more your health improves.

Here’s how your body begins to heal itself from the moment you quit.

Timeline of healing

Quitline-Quit smoking timeline of healing

To begin your personal timeline of healing, call Quitline on 13 78 48 or visit www.quitlinesa.org.au to start mapping out your quitting plan.

Return to top

Go to content

How to identify and manage stress

Stress is a normal part of life and can help us achieve our goals, but too much stress can be a problem for your body and your health.

Some people smoke when they feel stressed. They use smoking to cope with unpleasant feelings. But smoking is not a good stress reliever and there are many problems with using cigarettes to cope with stress. Smoking won’t solve the problem that was giving you stress, and it can also create further stress for your body.

Cravings for nicotine can be strong and when the body begins to experience withdrawal symptoms, this causes more stress on your body.

The best way to de-stress is to become a non-smoker: learn new, healthy ways to cope with stressful situations and take care of yourself without smoking.

So here are some tips on what you can do to take control.

  1. Identify your stressors

What situations cause you stress in your life? Is it anger? Boredom? Joy? Are they a result of things around you or from within yourself?

Think about what you can do to manage these situations. By understanding situations that cause you stress, you can put plans in place to avoid the situation, alter your environment or talk positively to yourself.

  1. Notice signs of stress early

Think about how stress affects your body and where you feel tension. The sooner you identify signs of stress—such as muscle tightness, clenched jaw, feeling irritable or angry, upset stomach—the sooner you will be able to put strategies in place to manage it.

  1. Look after yourself

Eat a healthy diet, focusing on reducing caffeine and sugar.

You’ll also want to avoid alcohol. While it’s a stimulant in small quantities, it is a depressant in larger quantities, and is not an effective way to alleviate stress. Keep yourself hydrated with healthier options, such as water, herbal tea or fruit juice.

Getting enough sleep is also important. A lack of sleep is stressful so will make you feel less able to manage your stress. Try to spend time relaxing before bed, calming down and establish a regular bedtime routine.

  1. Do things you enjoy

Think about what things bring you enjoyment and make you feel good. Some suggestions could be:

  • Listen to your favourite music
  • Have a warm bath
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Watch a movie
  • Go outside and get in touch with nature
  • Connect with your friends
  • Distract yourself
  • Have a massage
  1. Exercise

When you are physically active, feel-good hormones called endorphins are released in your body. Try to incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine on a regular basis. If you start to feel stressed or tense, go for brisk walk in the fresh air. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and relaxed.

  1. Practise relaxation techniques

There are lots of different things that you can do to relax your mind and body.

Deep breathing exercises:

Breathe in through your nose for a count of three and exhale through your mouth for a count of three. Repeat this for a few minutes, and the tension in your body will begin to ease.


Meditation is a state of focused awareness of the mind and body allowing thoughts to fall away, leaving a deep feeling of stillness and peace. Many meditation techniques involve focusing fully on something—your breath, an object, music or a visualisation.


Close your eyes and create a place in your mind. As you start to imagine this place, slow your breathing down and stay in this place for a few minutes.

What these things have in common is that they get you to focus on the here and now. It might take some practice to get it right, or you might want to try different strategies to work out what feels right for you.

  1. Ask for support

Reach out to a family member, a friend or ring Quitline to speak with a counsellor about how you are feeling and the challenging time that you are facing. Talking about it and having social support can make a huge difference to your stress levels.

Stress is part of life, but with some time and patience, you can learn to manage it smoke free.