ABC News' Dr. Tim Answers Questions About Smoking

Question: After smoking on and off for 35 years, I stopped smoking on January 7, 2005. How much have my lungs improved in the last 10 months, and how long does it take for them to be normal again? — Brenda, Maud, Okla.

Answer: After being smoke-free for 10 months, lung function improves dramatically. Much of the congestion from your lungs should be gone; the cilia have re-grown in the lungs, and your risk for bronchitis has decreased. It is hard to predict how long it will take for your lungs to be "normal," but you have already benefited your respiratory tract immensely. — Consultation: Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Question: I am a 40-year-old male who has smoked one pack a day for 15 years. I would like to know, if I quit smoking today, have I done any permanent damage and what are my chances of developing any type of cancer or any other smoking related illness in the future? — Pat, Austin, Texas

Answer: It is NEVER too late to quit. Obviously the risks are dose-related -- the more you smoke, the more risk. But no matter how much you have smoked, you experience immediate benefits upon quitting -- within 1 year your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker, and risks of stroke, lung disease and lung cancer will already start to decrease. While it is impossible to guarantee that you have not done permanent damage, you are young enough to make a huge difference by quitting. If you stay quit for 15 years, your risk for lung cancer is reduced to almost the same as someone who never smoked, and your risk for coronary heart disease is the same as someone who NEVER smoked! — Consultation: Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Question: I quit smoking three years ago, by chewing more than the recommended dose of nicorette. After smoking for 14 years; what is the healing process of the lungs? — Daniel Shanken, Harrisburg, Penn.

Answer: Good for you. It is safe to use any of the nicotine replacement therapies in any dose and for as long as needed. Your lungs have healed tremendously in just three years. — Consultation: Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Question: I was reading a newly-published book by a Dr. Balasa Prasad: "Stop Smoking for Good." It is an excellent book, and the author believes the addiction to cigarettes is more in the mind than from nicotine, as the effects of nicotine have long gone when the craving appears many months later if one has stopped for a brief period of time. Do you have any comments about is it Nicotine or the mind? — Rich, Arlington, Va.

Answer: I am aware of the book and believe there is no more addictive substance than nicotine. It is harder to take control over the nicotine addiction than to take control over heroin, cocaine or alcohol. Of course, with every addiction there are psychological and behavioral aspects which have to be addressed and indeed, for most people, it is harder to control the behavioral aspect than the physical. But I do think the physical level of addiction has to be addressed and treated accordingly. Just because someone has stopped smoking doesn't mean the nicotine addiction has ended. — Consultation: Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Question: How much does nicotine constrict capillaries? Compared to caffeine? — Art, Englewood, NY

Answer: Nicotine via a cigarette is absorbed within 10 seconds or less with each puff. So there is immediate vasoconstriction. The affects of caffeine are slower -- as it takes about 20-30 minutes for absorption orally. But as a reminder, nicotine is NOT what causes the cancers, strokes, heart disease, etc. It is a central system stimulant so there will be vasoconstriction. But it is the additives in tobacco products that cause damage. Nicotine, which is in every tobacco product, is the addictive substance. — Consultation: Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Question: My 69-year-old mother was recently diagnosed with Mesothelioma Lung cancer. She smoked for about 5 years but quit over 35 years ago. I've read that this form of cancer is often caused by asbestos -- is this true? What are her treatment options? We are very early into the diagnosis and want to do the very best for her. What is the overall prognosis for someone that catches this relatively early? — Jerry, Marquette, Mich.

Answer: Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung (pleura) that has been associated with asbestos exposure, though a clear history of asbestos exposure is only evident in about 2/3 of patients. Smoking has not been shown to increase the risk of mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is challenging to treat though treatment options are improving. For patients with early stage disease, surgery is occasionally recommended. Other patients are treated with chemotherapy or radiation. Since this is an uncommon disease, I would advise a consultation at a specialized center. — Consultation: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Cancer