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Do smokers regret?

Many people start smoking during their teens or early adulthood. At first, smoking can seem cool, calm nerves, or relieve boredom. However, the truth is that smoking is highly addictive and has severe health consequences. So do most smokers end up regretting their decision to start smoking? Let’s take a closer look.

Why Do People Start Smoking?

There are many different reasons why people may begin smoking:

  • Peer pressure – Wanting to fit in with friends or social groups who smoke
  • Stress relief – Believing smoking will help relieve anxiety or nerves
  • Weight control – Thinking smoking can suppress appetite
  • Boredom – Needing something to do with their hands or pass time
  • Rebellion – Viewing smoking as a way to assert independence and defy authority figures who discourage smoking
  • Curiosity – Wanting to try something new and “taboo”
  • Enjoyment – Genuinely liking the taste and sensation of smoking

For teenagers and young adults especially, smoking can seem glamorous, sophisticated, or daring. Many start experimenting with smoking in social settings without fully understanding the risks and consequences involved.

The Powerfully Addictive Nature of Smoking

One of the biggest reasons why smokers end up regretting this decision is the incredibly addictive nature of nicotine and cigarettes.

Cigarettes contain a highly addictive substance called nicotine. When nicotine is inhaled, it enters the bloodstream rapidly and travels to the brain. In the brain, nicotine binds to receptors, triggering the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters associated with pleasure, reduced stress, and improved mood.

Over time, the brain becomes reliant on nicotine to function properly. Smokers build up a tolerance and require increasingly more nicotine to get the same pleasurable effects.

When nicotine levels drop due to not smoking, withdrawal symptoms like irritability, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, restlessness, and increased appetite occur. This makes it very difficult to quit smoking once the addiction sets in.

Most smokers underestimate how rapidly they can become dependent on nicotine and how difficult it is to stop smoking once addicted.

The Numerous Health Risks of Smoking

In addition to the challenge of addiction, smoking also comes with severe health risks that most smokers deeply regret over time.

According to the CDC, smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and is linked to an extensive list of health conditions:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Multiple types of cancer, including lung, mouth, larynx, esophagus, throat, kidney, liver, bladder, colon, and more
  • Reproductive effects like infertility and ectopic pregnancy
  • Vision loss
  • Osteoporosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Impaired immune function
  • COPD
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate in babies of pregnant smokers

There are over 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, 69 of which are known carcinogens or cancer-causing agents. Smoking is directly responsible for over 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including over 41,000 deaths due to exposure to secondhand smoke.

Impact on Life Expectancy

According to the CDC, smoking reduces life expectancy by at least 10 years compared to not smoking. Male smokers lose an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lose 14.5 years.

This shocking loss of life expectancy is one of the biggest regrets expressed by long-time smokers. Most smokers take up the habit when young, viewing the risks as distant and abstract. But by the time they reach middle age and beyond, the impact of smoking on health becomes more evident. Losing over a decade of life to an unhealthy habit started in their youth is something many lament.

Financial Burden

In addition to health consequences, smoking also comes with a significant financial cost over time. Buying cigarette packs or cartons as well as lighters and other accessories adds up.

For a pack-a-day smoker, the CDC estimates the average yearly cost at over $2,000. Over 10 years, that equates to $20,656, and over 20 years $41,312. For two pack-a-day smokers, costs double to over $80,000 over 20 years.

This money spent on an unhealthy addiction could certainly have been better used on savings, retirement, travel, experiences, or family needs. The cumulative amount wasted on smoking over a lifetime is huge, and something that leads to financial regret.

Harm to Loved Ones

Secondhand smoke exposure also causes health issues in nonsmokers, especially vulnerable groups like children and the elderly. Secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which can cause cancer. There is no risk-free level of exposure.

Being around secondhand smoke increases risks for lung cancer, stroke, heart disease, and other problems in nonsmokers. Over 41,000 deaths occur from secondhand smoke annually in the U.S.

When a loved one develops a smoking-related illness from secondhand smoke, immense guilt is common amongst smokers who exposed them. Causing harm to children, partners, parents and friends is a difficult consequence to accept.

Aesthetic Impact

Smoking’s damaging effects extend beyond health to aesthetics as well. Some impacts include:

  • Yellow stains on teeth and fingers from cigarette stain.
  • Premature wrinkles and skin aging from blood vessel damage and toxin exposure.
  • Thinning hair and hair loss. Smoking impairs circulation including to the follicles.
  • Smell – Smoke odor permeates hair, clothes, home.
  • Bad breath.
  • Dulled sense of taste and smell.

For those concerned with appearance, the aesthetic impact of smoking can lead to regret and motivation to quit.

Difficulty Getting Health or Life Insurance

Due to the myriad health risks, smokers often pay significantly more for health insurance or life insurance compared to nonsmokers. They may even be denied coverage by some providers.

One life insurance study found:

  • Nonsmokers pay average annual premiums of $1,100
  • Light smokers pay average annual premiums of $1,250
  • Moderate smokers pay average premiums of $1,500
  • Heavy smokers pay average premiums of $2,100

So a lifetime smoker could end up paying tens or hundreds of thousands more than a nonsmoker for insurance. The higher costs and limited options are an annoying and costly side effect of smoking.

Social Stigma

While smoking was once considered “cool”, public perceptions have shifted dramatically, and smoking now comes with considerable social stigma:

  • Smoking is banned indoors in many public spaces, forcing smokers to leave restaurants, bars, office buildings, etc. to smoke outside.
  • Most workplaces have non-smoking policies.
  • Many landlords prohibit smoking in apartments and condos.
  • Cities have passed ordinances prohibiting smoking in public parks and beaches.
  • Cigarette ads are banned on TV, billboards, and other mediums.
  • Tobacco purchases are highly taxed, with extra taxes levied on cigarettes to discourage use.
  • Warning labels must be prominently places on cigarette packaging.
  • Many consider smoking a dirty habit and smokers inconsiderate.

While public health efforts to reduce smoking are good overall, the resulting stigma against smokers can feel ostracizing. Some smokers may regret decisions to smoke due to the social isolation and judgment they experience.

Risk of Fires

Many deadly fires have been caused by abandoned cigarettes or smoking materials. The National Fire Protection Association reports:

  • Over 1,000 people die in smoking-related fires per year in the U.S.
  • 25% of fire deaths are attributable to smoking.
  • $6 billion in property damage stems from smoking-caused fires annually.

Causing accidental fire and property damage or even death due to unsafe smoking and disposal of cigarettes is an immense potential regret.

Harming the Environment

Cigarette butts and packaging also litter streets, parks, beaches, and waterways. Cigarette filters contain plastic fibers and toxic chemicals from tobacco that leach out. Wildlife and marine creatures may ingest discarded butts, causing choking, toxicity, or death.

Growing tobacco also depletes topsoil. Chemicals used in farming pollute watersheds. Processing and manufacturing cigarettes emits greenhouse gases. The environmental impact of smoking is increasingly recognized, which can lead to eco-guilt.

Data on Smoking Regret

So given the many downsides discussed, do most smokers end up regretting this decision? Let’s examine some statistics:

Smoking Cessation Rates

  • 70% of smokers in the U.S. report wanting to quit completely.
  • 55.1% of adult smokers quit smoking for at least 1 day in the past year.
  • 8.8% of smokers successfully quit in the past year.
  • Only 7.5% of smokers are able to successfully quit in a given year.
  • Approximately 50% of lifelong smokers will die from smoking-related diseases.

While most smokers express desire to quit, actually kicking the addiction is extremely challenging, with low long-term success rates. However, the fact that over half at least try to quit each year indicates a high level of regret.

Smoker Survey Data

Surveys asking smokers directly about regret find:

  • A 2020 survey found 85% of smokers regret ever having started smoking and wish they could go back in time and never smoke their first cigarette.
  • In the same survey, 75% of smokers said if cigarettes were banned tomorrow, they would “not really miss smoking” or only miss it for a few days.
  • Only 13% said they would find a way to keep smoking if cigarettes were banned.
  • 91% of smokers polled in a Gallup survey said they wished they had never started smoking.
  • Newer smokers report higher levels of regret. For those who have smoked less than 10 years, nearly all (99%) regret starting.

These self-reported results indicate an overwhelming majority of smokers feel remorse about their decision to begin smoking and wish they could go back. This regret seems to increase the longer someone has smoked and experienced the effects.

Why Some Smokers Don’t Regret

While most smokers do express regret, a smaller proportion indicate they do not. Reasons why some smokers may not regret their habit include:

  • Denial or avoidance – Pushing aside or downplaying the health risks and effects since quitting seems so difficult.
  • Rebellion – Enjoying that smoking defies conventions and authority figures that discourage it.
  • Stress relief – The calming, relaxing effect of smoking remains important for managing moods despite the risks.
  • Resignation – Feeling it is too late to undo the smoking habit’s effects after many years.
  • Low priorities – Placement of lesser importance on long-term health vs. short-term pleasure or addiction.
  • Low health awareness – Lacking education about smoking’s full risks and consequences.

However, even among those who don’t explicitly regret smoking, many do end up trying to quit or switch to e-cigarettes or other alternatives later in life.


Reviewing the extensive data and research on the topic, the conclusion is clear – the large majority of smokers do end up regretting this decision.

The incredibly addictive nature of nicotine makes smoking much easier to start than to stop. And over time, the severe health effects, financial costs, harm to loved ones, aesthetic impacts, and social stigma become impossible to ignore. Additionally, most smokers do make multiple attempts to quit, even if unsuccessful at first, indicating they want to reverse course.

Of course, it is far better not to start smoking in the first place. But even for those who do, it is possible to quit smoking with determination, support, and access to resources. The benefits of smoking cessation are immediate and immense.

While the past cannot be undone, the future offers possibilities for change. For any smoker with regrets, it is never too late to stop smoking and begin reversing the habit’s negative effects on your health, finances, relationships, and quality of life. The benefits start as soon as you smoke your last cigarette.