Quitting Tobacco & The “Smokers' Flu”

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Giving up tobacco is one of the best things smokers can do for their health, but quitting smoking can be a literally painful process. Aside from overcoming cigarette cravings, many recovering tobacco users experience the dreaded “smokers’ flu.” What’s worse, nicotine withdrawal can also cause anxiety, insomnia and mood swings, which leads many people right back into their addiction. Below is a guide to surviving the many obstacles that come with quitting tobacco.

From Smoking to Vaping: Overcoming the Smokers’ Flu

“When am I going to feel better?” We hear this question from customers all the time. It’s a fair question – most folks in our e-cig community are former tobacco users. Quitting tobacco cigarettes makes you feel a lot worse before you feel a lot better, and it’s one of the reasons why so many people continue smoking. In the long run, you’ll breath much easier after quitting smoking, but expect to feel worse before you feel better.

Here are the worst-case symptoms of “smokers’ flu”:

Symptoms of smokers' flu from quitting smoking

  • Acne
  • Chest and nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Digestive issues
  • Dry Mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Sore throat

(We’re not doctors. If you are concerned with any discomfort you experience after quitting smoking, be sure to visit a medical professional.)

Related: Health Effects of Vaping: Good or Bad?

It’s Not the Flu – It Just Feels Like It

Many smokers are used to periodic coughing and congestion, but the everyday side effects of smoking become harsher as your body adjusts to an influx of fresh oxygen. If you’re a long time tobacco user, suddenly quitting smoking can cause you to develop flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, congestion and even acne outbreaks. Smokers flu is not an illness that requires treatment; it’s just your body healing itself from the damage caused by tar and other chemicals in tobacco cigarettes.

How Long Does It Last?

Some ex-smokers experience mild symptoms for a few days while others continue to feel ill for over a month. After the first week, most people find that their cigarette cravings decrease in intensity while their flu symptoms get worse. If you don’t start feeling gradually better after two weeks, or if you develop a fever at any time, check with a doctor to rule out other health issues.

Can Vaping Prevent Flu Symptoms?

Can vaping prevent smokers' flu symptoms?

Unfortunately, people who transition from smoking to vaping are not exempt from flu-like symptoms. Since many ex-smokers get sick after trading tobacco for vaping, some people erroneously believe that e-cigarettes cause flu symptoms, but this is not the case. While vaping can help curb nicotine cravings, it will not alleviate the physical pains of tobacco withdrawal. That said, you can transition from smoking to vaping gradually so that your symptoms aren’t as severe.

Although vaping will not help your flu symptoms, e-cigs can alleviate the psychological side effects of smoking cessation such as irritability and anxiety. In addition to mimicking the physical act of smoking, e-cigs satiate tobacco cravings by delivering nicotine much like smoking aids such as nicotine patches and gums do.

Related: Combating the Side Effects of Vapor Cigarettes

Tobacco Withdrawal vs. Nicotine Withdrawal

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms: headaches

Nicotine is a stimulant found naturally in the tobacco plant, but it can also be produced synthetically. Nicotine stimulates serotonin and dopamine, two chemicals in the brain associated with pleasure, which is why smoking helps some people feel relaxed. Nicotine isn’t necessarily a “bad” drug; in fact, it has some therapeutic qualities.

Small doses of the substance can provide a short term memory boost, and studies suggest that nicotine may be beneficial for neurological illnesses like Parkinson’s disease. Since smokers are used to consuming an excess of nicotine, they experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms when they try to suddenly stop.

Nicotine withdrawal symptoms are separate from smokers flu and may include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Increased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Intense cigarette cravings
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating

Since nicotine doesn’t stay in the body for long before it starts breaking down, heavy smokers may start feeling the effects of nicotine withdrawal within half-an-hour of their last cigarette. After 3-5 days with no nicotine, these symptoms should start to improve.

Tips to Tackle the Smokers’ Flu

In the end, no matter how bad your symptoms become, you know it’s the storm before the calm of no more tobacco. You probably won’t experience all of the side effects, but consider this a worst-case scenario and be prepared. If you feel you may be coming down with the Smokers’ Flu, here are a few tips to help speed up the process:

      • Combating smokers' flu symptoms: drink waterStay Hydrated: Drink lots of water and avoid alcohol. Vaping can actually cause dry mouth, so you should always make an effort to stay extra hydrated when you vape. Some warm tea with honey may help alleviate your sore throat.
      • Combating smokers' flu symptoms: eat healthy foodsEat Healthy: Your body needs fuel to repair itself. It’s natural to crave comfort foods like ice cream and other fatty or sugary snacks when you’re not feeling well, but a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains can speed up your recovery.
      • Combating smokers' flu symptoms: restGet Plenty of Rest: Just like with the normal flu, you'll want to get some extra rest while combating the symptoms of smokers' flu. By resting, your body will devote more resources to fighting symptoms.
      • Exercise to Combat Smoker's FluGet Some Exercise: Don’t run a marathon, but don’t spend all day in bed either. Some light aerobic exercise, such as a short stroll through the park, can vastly improve your lung functioning.
      • Combating smokers' flu symptoms: vape the right nicotine strengthChoose the Right Nicotine Strength: To successfully transition from smoking to vaping, be sure to choose an e-liquid with enough nicotine to satisfy your cravings. For help selecting the best nicotine level based on how much you currently smoke, see What Electronic Cigarette Strength Is Right For You?
      • CASAA logoJoin a Support Group: There are hundreds of Facebook groups and other online communities for people trying to quit smoking. If you want to become more active in the vaping community, get involved with a group like CASAA.

Related: Avoiding Throat Irritation from Vapor Cigarettes: Fine Tuning for the Best Vape

Vaping vs. Smoking: Is One Really Better Than the Other?

Over a decade of research on e-cigs has revealed that vaping is about 95 percent safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes. In early 2018, the American Cancer Society even came out in support of vaping as a safer alternative to smoking. Continued research is necessary to measure the long-term impact of using e-cigs, but all evidence indicates that switching from smoking to vaping can greatly lower your risk of getting cancer, emphysema and other smoking related illnesses.

While nicotine isn’t the only addictive substance in tobacco smoke, vaping an e-liquid that contains nicotine can help prevent the withdrawal symptoms described above. Vaping won’t stop you from feeling bad, but it can help you maintain sanity until you feel better.

The Long Term Benefits of Quitting Smoking

When you’re feeling bad and find yourself craving a cigarette, just remember that smoking increases your chances of getting actual influenza and other respiratory illnesses. You will feel better than you have in a long time after your flu symptoms subside. Until then, keep your e-cig nearby and give yourself a pat on the back for beating your tobacco addiction.

Tell us about your experience with quitting tobacco or switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes. Did you get the so-called Smokers’ Flu? Or did you spend a few days in bed, cursing the world?