Heaps of misinformation swirls around what happens to your body when you quit smoking. Imagined disincentives dissuade some smokers from even attempting to quit. Here, Scott Cerreta, education director at Washington, DC’s COPD Foundation sets the facts straight. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is an umbrella term for chronic bronchitis, emphysema, refractory non-reversible asthma, and forms of bronchiectasis. Developing COPD, the third leading cause of death in the U.S.,  is linked to inflammatory responses that, once initiated, are only stopped by quitting smoking.

Myth One: The damage is done, no use quitting.

Wrong. Some damage is reversible, evidence shows. If you have heart disease, your heart-attack risk will halve one year post-quitting. Five years after, heart-attack risk drops to that of a non-smoker’s. Smoking cessation can improve cardiac patients’ outcomes more than any other prescribed treatment. Lung-cancer risk also declines steadily after quitting, dwindling to 30 to 50 percent of what it’d be had you kept puffing 10 years after quitting. Plus, quitting is one of only two things proven to prolong life with COPD, along with oxygen therapy. Quitting is the only way to slow smokers’ lung-function loss. While lung function does not return to normal after quitting, some restoration occurs and rapid lung-function loss slows.

Myth Two: If I smoke fewer cigarettes, less harm occurs.

Wrong.  This harm-reduction concept has been hotly contested over the last decade. Advising patients to smoke less or switch to low-tar cigarettes is misguiding and encourages smokers to continue the catastrophic behavior. While one study found heavy smokers who cut down by half decreased lung-cancer risk by 25 percent, long-term studies have found heavy smokers who cut down by more than half not to decrease risk of early death. Recent evidence suggests lowering the number of daily cigarettes won’t reduce COPD or heart-disease risk. Even pulling on a few cigs daily sustains the inflammatory response associated with COPD and won’t halt lung-function loss.

Myth Three: As I age, quitting gets harder.

Wrong. It is true that physicians recommend quitting less often to older adults compared to younger. But while hardcore smokers don’t often link the habit to their physical illnesses, when doctors connect the dots for them, older adult smokers with any chronic disease are twice as likely as younger smokers to successfully quit. Several studies find even smokers ages 69 or older are more likely to quit and less likely to relapse than younger smokers (though the findings drops off after age 84).

Which myth surprised You the most?