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Photograph: Freeimages.com/teoman yuksel

Smoking is one of the most common and most serious addictions and is the cause of 20% of all deaths, a news conference heard in Zagreb on Wednesday, organised to mark No Smoking Day which is intended to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption.

A total of 31.1% of Croatia's population are smokers.

Every eight seconds one person in the world dies of a smoking-related disease. It is estimated that one billion people will die of smoking-related diseases in the 21st century.

According to a survey conducted by the European Union's statistical office Eurostat in 2014 and 2015, a total of 31.1% of Croatia's population are smokers. Of Croatia's male population, 35.3% are smokers, while 27.1% of females are smokers.

More women smoke in Croatia than in any other European country, and as for the share of male smokers, it ranks 7th.

According to another study, which Eurobarometer released on World No Tobacco Day, Croatia has the third highest number of smokers in the European Union.

More and more people, however, are quitting in the EU. Trends show that smoking in all EU member states has dropped from 28% to 26%. The largest drop was recorded among those in the 15-24 age group (-4%).

Experts claim that in as little as 20 minutes a person starts to feel the benefits of not smoking. Less than 20 minutes after their last cigarette, a person's heart rate will already start to drop back to normal levels. 

After a couple of weeks, a former smoker will be able to exercise and perform physical activities without feeling winded and sick. This is due to a number of regenerative processes that will begin to occur in the body; the circulation will improve, and the lung function will also improve significantly. 

After two or three weeks without smoking, the lungs of an ex-smoker may start to feel clear, and they will start breathing easier. For most smokers, withdrawal symptoms dissipate about two weeks after quitting. Even for the heaviest smokers, withdrawal symptoms will go away no more than several months after quitting.

Starting about a month after they quit, the lungs of a former smoker begin to repair.

After a year without smoking, the risk for heart disease in a former smoker is lowered by 50 percent compared to when they were still smoking.

A number of the substances released in the burning of tobacco—carbon monoxide chief among them—cause the blood vessels to narrow, which increases the risk of a stroke. After five to 15 years of being smoke-free, the risk of a former smoker having a stroke is the same as that of someone who doesn't smoke .

Smokers are at higher risk than non-smokers for a daunting list of cancers, with lung cancer being the most common and one of the most dangerous. Smoking accounts for 90 percent of lung cancer deaths worldwide.

Fifteen years of non-smoking will bring a former smoker's risk of heart disease back to the same level as someone who doesn't smoke. 

Croatia marks No Smoking Day on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent when many consider quitting.

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