What Smoking Does to Your Body
Read on to learn more about smoking and how it affects your body.
Sex and gender terms
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. For the purposes of this article, we use “male” and “female” to refer to a person’s sex assigned at birth.
- nicotine, a highly addictive drug
If you are close to a person who smokes, you inhale secondhand smoke. This exposes you to the same toxins and can lead to further complications.
Complications of smoking
Smoking causes most lung cancer deaths and causes or worsens many other diseases and conditions. These include lung diseases, cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and gum disease. Smoking also increases the risk of certain pregnancy complications and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). According to the CDC, smoking accounts for about 1 in every 5 deaths in the U.S.
Smoking can affect almost every area of your body. Smoking causes cancer and many other diseases and serious conditions. According to the American Cancer Society, smoking causes about 20% of cancer cases and 30% of cancer deaths in the U.S.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Damage to the lungs makes it difficult for oxygen to get to the rest of the body.
- Chronic bronchitis: Overproduction of mucus in the airways causes a long lasting cough.
- Emphysema: Damage to the air sacs in the lungs means not enough oxygen reaches the blood.
- Lung cancer: Smoking causes almost 9 out of 10 lung cancer deaths.
Heart and blood vessels
- Coronary artery disease: This is a condition where the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygen-rich blood from the arteries.
- Heart attacks and strokes: High blood pressure and a reduced ability to exercise can contribute to heart attack and stroke risks.
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD): This condition causes plaque to build up in the arteries, restricting blood flow to your limbs and organs.
- Peripheral vascular disease (PVD): This condition causes your blood vessels to narrow, restricting blood flow in your feet, legs, and thighs.
- Aortic aneurysm: This is a condition where the aorta develops a bulge that can grow and rupture. The aorta is the main artery leading from the heart to other areas of the body.
In females (assigned at birth), smoking can cause these complications with the reproductive system:
- Reduced likelihood of pregnancy: Becoming pregnant can be more difficult for people who smoke.
- Ectopic pregnancy: This occurs when the embryo develops outside the uterus.
- Placenta previa: This means that the placenta is in the wrong place.
- Placental abruption: This happens when the placenta detaches from the uterus prematurely.
- Cervical cancer: Smoking can double your risk of developing cervical cancer.
In males (assigned at birth), smoking can cause erectile dysfunction and reduced fertility.
Other complications include:
- pregnancy loss
- congenital disorders
- premature or low-weight births
Other cancers that smoking can cause
- pancreatic cancer
- throat cancer
- stomach cancer
- kidney cancer
- liver cancer
- bladder cancer
- colon cancer
- rectal cancer
Other effects of smoking
- premature skin aging
- thinner bones, which increase your risk for fractures
- greater risk for type 2 diabetes
- prolonged wound healing
- reduced immune system function
- greater risk for rheumatoid arthritis
Smoking has a wide impact on your body, so the symptoms of smoking-related diseases and conditions vary. If you smoke, you may experience:
- bad breath and yellowing of the teeth
- frequent or recurrent respiratory illnesses
- high blood pressure
- loss of taste and smell
- low oxygen levels in the blood
- low tolerance for exercise and fatigue
- premature aging and wrinkling of the skin
- shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
- smoker’s cough, an ongoing loose cough that produces phlegm
Serious diseases and conditions
Long-term smoking can cause serious and life threatening diseases and conditions, including:
Seek immediate medical care if you or someone with you is experiencing any of these potentially serious symptoms:
- chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, or palpitations
- fever higher than 101°F
- persistent, wet cough
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
The factors that lead a person to start smoking can be difficult to understand. Many people start smoking at a young age. Peer pressure, tobacco advertising, or media showing smoking as acceptable behavior may contribute to starting smoking. Many people who start smoking have a family member or close friend who smokes.
In 2020, the CDC estimated that almost 13 out of every 100 adults in the U.S. smoked cigarettes. Smoking is more common in men than women. It is also more common in households with lower incomes and adults with lower education levels.
Once started, smoking and other forms of tobacco use are difficult to stop. Nicotine, which is present in tobacco, is a highly addictive substance. Like many other addictive substances, nicotine triggers biochemical reactions and pleasant sensations. People who try to quit smoking experience unpleasant side effects resulting from nicotine withdrawal. These side effects make it more difficult to quit.
There does not appear to be a specific trigger that causes a person to start smoking. However, several risk factors are associated with smoking. These include:
Quitting is difficult and may require more than one type of treatment to succeed. You may benefit from a combination of one or more of the following:
- a quit plan
- prescription drugs, such as varenicline (Chantix) or bupropion (Zyban)
- nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which involves using nicotine patches, gum, or other methods to wean yourself off of nicotine
- counseling or therapy
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your health, and your family and friends. Quitting smoking will have some immediate benefits:
- less coughing
- better circulation
- lower heart rate
- lower blood pressure
- more oxygen in your blood
What can I smoke instead of cigarettes?
Smoking anything containing tobacco poses potentially serious health risks. There are no safe smoking options.
Is vaping worse than cigarettes?
The long-term effects of vaping, or the use of e-cigarettes, are not yet known. However, vaping, like smoking, poses health risks. Vaping still exposes you and the people around you to nicotine, the same addictive chemical in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. The aerosol that comes from an e-cigarette also contains other toxic chemicals.
Is smoking once a week safe?
There is no level of tobacco use that is safe. Even occasional use can cause potentially serious conditions and diseases.
Smoking affects almost every part of your body. It can cause cancer, heart disease, pregnancy complications, and strokes. There is no safe level of tobacco use, and quitting smoking will provide immediate benefits.
If you are experiencing severe or persistent symptoms that could be related to smoking, talk with your doctor.