What’s with that tickly cough?

John C. Dicey
5 min readSep 29, 2022


Smokers who quit can experience an annoying tickle or hacking cough

Some people feel the only way to ease that cough is to have a cigarette. Wrong!

A few people have got in touch to ask why they get a cough/smoker’s flu after quitting smoking. It doesn’t happen to everyone — but if it does it’s important that you enjoy the process rather than see it as some kind of negative. That might sound a bit strange — but once you know the cause — you’ll understand.

Let’s get this clear — if you had to experience the mildest bout of flu you’ve ever had, in order to get free from a lifetime of filth, misery, ill-health, and slavery wouldn’t you “suffer it” with delight?

So what causes the tickle, the cough, the hacking, or wheezing?

When a smoker quits, all the gunk, tar, and toxins that accumulate in their lungs begins to be discharged from the body. The human body is a quite extraordinary machine and never stops trying to help us survive.

As a smoker the gunk stays in your lungs and respiratory tract because the cilia that exist to push out any debris that is accidentally inhaled are damaged by smoking. Every time you take a puff on a cigarette you inhale debris.

What sort of debris?

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals, including at least 70 that are known to cause cancer. chemicals are referred to as carcinogens. Some of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke include:

  • Nicotine
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Lead
  • Arsenic
  • Ammonia
  • Radioactive elements, such as polonium-210
  • Benzene
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs)
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Cilia are hair-like fibres that caress foreign/harmful objects/debris out of the lungs and when you smoke they become matted down with (amongst other things, tar & mucus (think of seabird’s feathers when they are caught up in an oil slick…the hair-like fibres are matted down in the same way).

Smokers are normally completely unaware that cilia have stopped working as a result of their smoking — but this is part of the reason that some smokers develop a “smoker’s cough” (be aware — it isn’t a good sign if you’re a smoker and you DON’T have a smoker’s cough — it means your body isn’t even trying to get rid of the tar etc).

Over years the gunk and tar accumulate ad infinitum staying in our body rather than being expelled.

When most smokers quit — they don’t have a cough — but reassuringly the body is gently fixing itself and getting rid of the muck. Some smokers develop a bit of a tickly or chesty cough, very few have a chest infection or bronchitis.

As a fairly trivial side effect of getting rid of a disease that had a one in two chance of ending your life 10, 20, or 30 years prematurely — it’s a “stroll in the park” and even enjoyable to experience the purging process (better out than in and all that.

The very worse thing that someone who has quit smoking can do in response to that tickly or hacking cough or wheeziness is to light a cigarette. Whilst it appears to relive the cough — all it is doing is flattening down the cilia that are attempting to spring back into action to clear your lungs and airways as a result of quitting.


In short, ‘Motile’ (or moving) cilia are found in the lungs, respiratory tract. These cilia have a rhythmic waving or beating motion. They work, for instance, to keep the airways clear of mucus and dirt, allowing us to breathe easily and without irritation. Very soon after quitting smoking the cilia free themselves from the gloop (the human body is an amazing thing), resume that beating/wave motion, start to do their job again…cleaning out the gunk from the lungs and respiratory tract. The process can last a few days or even weeks — but it’s a brilliant thing. It really is.

That said, please don’t worry if you don’t get a cough after quitting — that’s not a bad sign — the gunk finds its own way out. I was an 80 a day smoker and didn’t experience any coughing at all.

As with any persistent cough or chest issue you should consult your doctor if:

  • you’ve had a cough for more than 3 weeks (persistent cough)
  • your cough is very bad or quickly gets worse — for example, you have a hacking cough or cannot stop coughing
  • you feel very unwell
  • you have chest pain
  • you’re losing weight for no reason
  • the side of your neck feels swollen and painful (swollen glands)
  • you find it hard to breathe
  • you have a weakened immune system — for example, because of chemotherapy or diabetes

See a GP urgently if you’re coughing up blood.

Quit smoking in spite of this information not because of it!

You’d think that being terrified about all the information above should be enough to scare you into quitting — but rather than helping smokers to quit — all this information does is has them turn to cigarettes. What does a smoker do when they’re worried or anxious? Of course, they light up.

It’s essential that you understand how to escape the smoking trap and how to IGNORE all the scary stuff and understand how you got tricked into smoking in the first place. Once you’ve done that — release from all of the stuff mentioned above becomes a wonderful bonus as opposed to a scary incentive.

Take a look at our Online Video Programme for quitting smoking here

Take a look at the Live Quit Smoking Group Seminars (now available — and equally effective — via Zoom) here

Don’t forget — we are always happy to offer free of charge advice and guidance to anyone struggling to succeed with Allen Carr’s Easyway. To obtain that guidance select SUPPORT on this link. You’ll then get to fill out a short questionnaire about your experience with the method — and based on that — a senior Allen Carr Therapist will provide you with bespoke, detailed, free of charge advice on how to get the method to gel for you.

From the desk of John C. Dicey, London, England.

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John C. Dicey

Former 80-a-day smoker who was freed by Allen Carr. Now Global CEO & Senior Therapist at Allen Carr’s Easyway (since 1998) & co-author of Allen Carr books.