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Health effects - Smoking

A person's increased risk of contracting disease is directly proportional to the length of time that a person continues to smoke as well as the amount smoked. However, if someone stops smoking, then these chances gradually decrease as the damage to their body is repaired. A year after quitting, the risk of contracting heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker. The health risks of smoking are not uniform across all smokers. Risks vary according to amount of tobacco smoked, with those who smoke more at greater risk. Light smoking is still a health risk. Likewise, smoking "light" cigarettes does not reduce the risks.

Tobacco use most commonly leads to diseases affecting the heart and lungs, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema, and cancer, particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer. Overall life expectancy is also reduced in regular smokers, with estimates ranging from 10 to 17.9 years fewer than nonsmokers. About two thirds of male smokers will die of illness due to smoking. The association of smoking with lung cancer is strongest, both in the public perception and etiologically. People who have smoked tobacco at some point have about a one in ten chance of developing lung cancer during their lifetime. If one looks at men who continue to smoke tobacco, the risk increases to one in six. Historically, lung cancer was considered to be a rare disease prior to World War I and was perceived as something most physicians would never see during their career. With the postwar rise in popularity of cigarette smoking came a virtual epidemic of lung cancer.


Male and female smokers lose an average of 13.4 to 14.3 years of life, respectively.

According to the results of a 14 year study of 34,486 male British doctors, at least half of all life-long smokers die earlier as a result of smoking.

Smokers are three times as likely to die before the age of 60 or 70 as non-smokers.

In the United States alone, cigarette smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke accounts for roughly one in five, or at at least 443,000 premature deaths annually.

"In the United States alone, tobacco kills the equivalent of three jumbo jets full of people crashing every day, with no survivors, 365 days of the year." -ABC's Peter Jennings On a worldwide basis, it's 1 jumbo jet per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. -WHO


The primary risks of tobacco usage include many forms of cancer, particularly lung cancer, kidney cancer, cancer of the larynx and head and neck, breast cancer, bladder cancer, cancer of the esophagus, cancer of the pancreas and stomach cancer.

There is some evidence suggesting an increased risk of myeloid leukaemia, squamous cell sinonasal cancer, liver cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, cancers of the gallbladder, the adrenal gland, the small intestine, and various childhood cancers.

The risk of dying from lung cancer before age 85 is 22.1% for a male smoker and 11.9% for a female smoker, in the absence of competing causes of death. The corresponding estimates for lifelong nonsmokers are a 1.1% probability of dying from lung cancer before age 85 for a man of European descent, and a 0.8% probability for a woman.


In smoking, long term exposure to compounds found in the smoke such as carbon monoxide, cyanide, and so forth—, are believed to be responsible for pulmonary damage and for loss of elasticity in the alveoli, leading to emphysema and COPD. The carcinogen acrolein and its derivatives also contribute to the chronic inflammation present in COPD.

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers. It is involuntarily inhaled, lingers in the air hours after cigarettes have been extinguished, and can cause a wide range of adverse health effects, including cancer, respiratory infections and asthma. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their heart disease risk by 25–30% and their lung cancer risk by 20–30%. Secondhand smoke has been estimated to cause 38,000 deaths per year, of which 3,400 are deaths from lung cancer in non-smokers.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) caused by smoking, known as tobacco disease, is a permanent, incurable reduction of pulmonary capacity characterized by shortness of breath, wheezing, persistent cough with sputum, and damage to the lungs, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.


Inhalation of tobacco smoke causes several immediate responses within the heart and blood vessels. Within one minute the heart rate begins to rise, increasing by as much as 30 percent during the first 10 minutes of smoking. Carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke exerts its negative effects by reducing the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.

Smoking also increases the chance of heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, and peripheral vascular disease. Several ingredients of tobacco lead to the narrowing of blood vessels, increasing the likelihood of a blockage, and thus a heart attack or stroke. According to a study by an international team of researchers, people under 40 are five times more likely to have a heart attack if they smoke.

Latest research of the American biologists have determined that cigarette smoke also influences the process of cell division in the cardiac muscle and changes the heart's shape.

The usage of tobacco has also been linked to Buerger's disease (thromboangiitis obliterans) the acute inflammation and thrombosis (clotting) of arteries and veins of the hands and feet.

The current Surgeon General’s Report concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Even short exposures to secondhand smoke can cause blood platelets to become stickier, damage the lining of blood vessels, decrease coronary flow velocity reserves, and reduce heart rate variability, potentially increasing the risk of heart attack. New research indicates that private research conducted by cigarette company Philip Morris in the 1980s showed that secondhand smoke was toxic, yet the company suppressed the finding during the next two decades.

Although cigarette smoking causes a greater increase of the risk of cancer than cigar smoking, cigar smokers still have an increased risk for many health problems, including cancer, when compared to non-smokers. As for Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS, or "Second-hand Smoking"), the NIH study points to the large amount of smoke generated by one cigar, saying "cigars can contribute substantial amounts of tobacco smoke to the indoor environment; and, when large numbers of cigar smokers congregate together in a cigar smoking event, the amount of ETS produced is sufficient to be a health concern for those regularly required to work in those environments."

Smoking tends to increase blood cholesterol levels. Furthermore, the ratio of high-density lipoprotein (the "good" cholesterol) to low-density lipoprotein (the "bad" cholesterol) tends to be lower in smokers compared to non-smokers. Smoking also raises the levels of fibrinogen and increases platelet production (both involved in blood clotting) which makes the blood viscous. Carbon monoxide binds to haemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying component in red blood cells), resulting in a much stabler complex than haemoglobin bound with oxygen or carbon dioxide—the result is permanent loss of blood cell functionality. Blood cells are naturally recycled after a certain period of time, allowing for the creation of new, functional erythrocytes. However, if carbon monoxide exposure reaches a certain point before they can be recycled, hypoxia (and later death) occurs. All these factors make smokers more at risk of developing various forms of arteriosclerosis. As the arteriosclerosis progresses, blood flows less easily through rigid and narrowed blood vessels, making the blood more likely to form a thrombosis (clot). Sudden blockage of a blood vessel may lead to an infarction (stroke). However, it is also worth noting that the effects of smoking on the heart may be more subtle. These conditions may develop gradually given the smoking-healing cycle (the human body heals itself between periods of smoking), and therefore a smoker may develop less significant disorders such as worsening or maintenance of unpleasant dermatological conditions, e.g. eczema, due to reduced blood supply. Smoking also increases blood pressure and weakens blood vessels.


In addition to increasing the risk of kidney cancer, smoking can also contribute to additional renal damage. Smokers are at a significantly increased risk for chronic kidney disease than non-smokers. A history of smoking encourages the progression of diabetic nephropathy.


A study of an outbreak of A(H1N1) influenza in an Israeli military unit of 336 healthy young men to determine the relation of cigarette smoking to the incidence of clinically apparent influenza, revealed that, of 168 smokers, 68.5 percent had influenza, as compared with 47.2 percent of nonsmokers. Influenza was also more severe in the smokers; 50.6 percent of the smokers lost work days or required bed rest, or both, as compared with 30.1 percent of the nonsmokers.

According to a study of 1,900 male cadets after the 1968 Hong Kong A2 influenza epidemic at a South Carolina military academy, compared with nonsmokers heavy smokers (more than 20 cigarettes per day), had 21% more illnesses and 20% more bed rest, light smokers (less than 20 cigarettes per day) had 10% more illnesses and 7% more bed rest.

The effect of cigarette smoking upon epidemic influenza was studied prospectively among 1,811 male college students. Clinical influenza incidence among those who daily smoked 21 or more cigarettes was 21% higher than that of non-smokers. Influenza incidence among smokers of 1 to 20 cigarettes daily was intermediate between non-smokers and heavy cigarette smokers.

Surveillance of a 1979 influenza out-break at a military base for women in Israel revealed that, Influenza symptoms developed in 60.0% of the current smokers vs. 41.6% of the nonsmokers.

Smoking seems to cause a higher relative influenza-risk in older populations than in younger populations. In a prospective study of community-dwelling people 60–90 years of age, during 1993, of unimmunized people 23% of smokers had clinical influenza as compared with 6% of non-smokers.

Smoking may substantially contribute to the growth of influenza epidemics affecting the entire population. However the proportion of influenza cases in the general non-smoking population attributable to smokers has not yet been calculated.


Perhaps the most serious oral condition that can arise is that of oral cancer. However, smoking also increases the risk for various other oral diseases, some almost completely exclusive to tobacco users. The National Institutes of Health, through the National Cancer Institute, determined in 1998 that "cigar smoking causes a variety of cancers including cancers of the oral cavity (lip, tongue, mouth, throat), esophagus, larynx, and lung." Pipe smoking involves significant health risks, particularly oral cancer. Roughly half of periodontitis or inflammation around the teeth cases are attributed to current or former smoking. Smokeless tobacco causes gingival recession and white mucosal lesions. Up to 90% of periodontitis patients who are not helped by common modes of treatment are smokers. Smokers have significantly greater loss of bone height than nonsmokers, and the trend can be extended to pipe smokers to have more bone loss than nonsmokers. Smoking has been proven to be an important factor in the staining of teeth. Halitosis or bad breath is common among tobacco smokers. Tooth loss has been shown to be 2 to 3 times higher in smokers than in non-smokers. In addition, complications may further include leukoplakia, the adherent white plaques or patches on the mucous membranes of the oral cavity, including the tongue, and a loss of taste sensation or salivary changes.


Tobacco is also linked to susceptibility to infectious diseases, particularly in the lungs. Smoking more than 20 cigarettes a day increases the risk of tuberculosis by two to four times, and being a current smoker has been linked to a fourfold increase in the risk of invasive pneumococcal disease. It is believed that smoking increases the risk of these and other pulmonary and respiratory tract infections both through structural damage and through effects on the immune system. The effects on the immune system include an increase in CD4+ cell production attributable to nicotine, which has tentatively been linked to increased HIV susceptibility. The usage of tobacco also increases rates of infection: common cold and bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and chronic bronchitis in particular.

Smoking reduces the risk of Kaposi's sarcoma in people without HIV infection. One study found this only with the male population and could not draw any conclusions for the female participants in the study.


In a study of men aged 24 to 36 seeking treatment for infertility, Panayiotis Zavos, Ph.D., confirmed the results of earlier studies demonstrating that smoking harms sperm quality in every way, from longevity to motility. But Zavos also found that smoking affected sexual behavior. The smokers had sex an average of 5.7 times per month, while the nonsmokers reported an average of 11.6 encounters. And on a scale of 1 to 10, the smokers rated the quality of sex at a lackluster 5.2, compared to 8.7 for nonsmokers."

Female infertility

Smoking is harmful to the ovaries, potentially causing female infertility, and the degree of damage is dependent upon the amount and length of time a woman smokes. Nicotine and other harmful chemicals in cigarettes interfere with the body’s ability to create estrogen, a hormone that regulates folliculogenesis and ovulation. Also, cigarette smoking interferes with folliculogenesis, embryo transport, endometrial receptivity, endometrial angiogenesis, uterine blood flow and the uterine myometrium. Some damage is irreversible, but stopping smoking can prevent further damage. Smokers are 60% more likely to be infertile than non-smokers. Smoking reduces the chances of IVF producing a live birth by 34% and increases the risk of an IVF pregnancy miscarrying by 30%.


"Smokers often report that cigarettes help relieve feelings of stress. However, the stress levels of adult smokers are slightly higher than those of nonsmokers, adolescent smokers report increasing levels of stress as they develop regular patterns of smoking, and smoking cessation leads to reduced stress. Far from acting as an aid for mood control, nicotine dependency seems to exacerbate stress. This is confirmed in the daily mood patterns described by smokers, with normal moods during smoking and worsening moods between cigarettes. Thus, the apparent relaxant effect of smoking only reflects the reversal of the tension and irritability that develop during nicotine depletion. Dependent smokers need nicotine to remain feeling normal."

Immediate effects

Users report feelings of relaxation, sharpness, calmness, and alertness. Those new to smoking may experience nausea, dizziness, and rapid heart beat. The unpleasant symptoms will eventually vanish over time, with repeated use, as the body builds a tolerance to the chemicals in the cigarettes, such as nicotine.


Smokers report higher levels of everyday stress. Several studies have monitored feelings of stress over time and found reduced stress after quitting.

The deleterious mood effects of abstinence explain why smokers suffer more daily stress than non-smokers, and become less stressed when they quit smoking. Deprivation reversal also explains much of the arousal data, with deprived smokers being less vigilant and less alert than non-deprived smokers or non-smokers.

Social and behavioral

Medical researchers have found that smoking is a predictor of divorce. Smokers have a 53% greater chance of divorce than nonsmokers.

Cognitive function

The usage of tobacco can also create cognitive dysfunction. There seems to be in increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, although "case–control and cohort studies produce conflicting results as to the direction of the association between smoking and AD". Smoking has been found to contribute to dementia and cognitive decline, reduced memory and cognitive abilities in adolescents, and brain shrinkage (cerebral atrophy).

In many respects, nicotine acts on the nervous system in a similar way to caffeine. Some writings have stated that smoking can also increase mental concentration; one study documents a significantly better performance on the normed Advanced Raven Progressive Matrices test after smoking.

Most smokers, when denied access to nicotine, exhibit symptoms such as irritability, jitteriness, dry mouth, and rapid heart beat. The onset of these symptoms is very fast, nicotine's half-life being only 2 hours. Withdrawal symptoms can appear even if the smoker's consumption is very limited or irregular, appearing after only 4–5 cigarettes in most adolescents. An ex-smoker's chemical dependence to nicotine will cease after approximately ten to twenty days, although the brain's number of nicotine receptors is permanently altered, and the psychological dependence may linger for months or even many years. Unlike some recreational drugs, nicotine does not measurably alter a smoker's motor skills, judgement, or language abilities while under the influence of the drug. Tobacco withdrawal has been shown to cause clinically significant distress.

Most notably, some studies have found that patients with Alzheimer's disease are more likely not to have smoked than the general population, which has been interpreted to suggest that smoking offers some protection against Alzheimer's. However, the research in this area is limited and the results are conflicting; some studies show that smoking increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease. A recent review of the available scientific literature concluded that the apparent decrease in Alzheimer risk may be simply because smokers tend to die before reaching the age at which Alzheimer normally occurs. "Differential mortality is always likely to be a problem where there is a need to investigate the effects of smoking in a disorder with very low incidence rates before age 75 years, which is the case of Alzheimer's disease," it stated, noting that smokers are only half as likely as non-smokers to survive to the age of 80.

Former and current smokers have a lower incidence of Parkinson's disease compared to people who have never smoked, although the authors stated that it was more likely that the movement disorders which are part of Parkinson's disease prevented people from being able to smoke than that smoking itself was protective. Another study considered a possible role of nicotine in reducing Parkinson's risk: nicotine stimulates the dopaminergic system of the brain, which is damaged in Parkinson's disease, while other compounds in tobacco smoke inhibit MAO-B, an enzyme which produces oxidative radicals by breaking down dopamine.

A very large percentage of schizophrenics smoke tobacco as a form of self medication. The high rate of tobacco use by the mentally ill is a major factor in their decreased life expectancy, which is about 25 years shorter than the general population. Following the observation that smoking improves condition of people with schizophrenia, in particular working memory deficit, nicotine patches had been proposed as a way to treat schizophrenia. Some studies suggest that a link exists between smoking and mental illness, citing the high incidence of smoking amongst those suffering from schizophrenia and the possibility that smoking may alleviate some of the symptoms of mental illness, but these have not been conclusive.

Recent studies have linked smoking to anxiety disorders, suggesting the correlation (and possibly mechanism) may be related to the broad class of anxiety disorders, and not limited to just depression. Current and ongoing research attempt to explore the addiction-anxiety relationship.

Data from multiple studies suggest that anxiety disorders and depression play a role in cigarette smoking. A history of regular smoking was observed more frequently among individuals who had experienced a major depressive disorder at some time in their lives than among individuals who had never experienced major depression or among individuals with no psychiatric diagnosis. People with major depression are also much less likely to quit due to the increased risk of experiencing mild to severe states of depression, including a major depressive episode. Depressed smokers appear to experience more withdrawal symptoms on quitting, are less likely to be successful at quitting, and are more likely to relapse.

Evidence suggests that non-smokers are up to twice as likely as smokers to develop Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease. A plausible explanation for these cases may be the effect of nicotine, a cholinergic stimulant, decreasing the levels of acetylcholine in the smoker's brain; Parkinson's disease occurs when the effect of dopamine is less than that of acetylcholine. In addition, nicotine stimulates the mesolimbic dopamine pathway (as do other drugs of abuse), causing an effective increase in dopamine levels. Opponents counter by noting that consumption of pure nicotine may be as beneficial as smoking without the risks associated with smoking, although this is unlikely due to the importance of the MAO-B inhibitor compounds of tobacco in preventing neurodegenerative diseases.

In pregnancy

Further information: Effects of smoking during pregnancy and Smoking and pregnancy

A number of studies have shown that tobacco use is a significant factor in miscarriages among pregnant smokers, and that it contributes to a number of other threats to the health of the fetus. Second-hand smoke appears to present an equal danger to the fetus, as one study noted that "heavy paternal smoking increased the risk of early pregnancy loss."

Other harm

Studies suggest that smoking decreases appetite, but did not conclude that overweight people should smoke or that their health would improve by smoking. This is also a cause of heart diseases. However due to some new processes of treating tobacco, especially in the case of cigarette, heavy smokers tend to become overweight as the processing involves large quantities of starch. This effect is not seen in occasional smokers. Smoking also decreases weight by overexpressing the gene AZGP1 which stimulates lipolysis.

Smoking causes about 10% of the global burden of fire deaths, and smokers are placed at an increased risk of injury-related deaths in general, partly due to also experiencing an increased risk of dying in a motor vehicle crash.

Smoking increases the risk of symptoms associated with Crohn's disease (a dose-dependent effect with use of greater than 15 cigarettes per day). There is some evidence for decreased rates of endometriosis in infertile smoking women, although other studies have found that smoking increases the risk in infertile women. There is little or no evidence of a protective effect in fertile women. Some preliminary data from 1996 suggested a reduced incidence of uterine fibroids, but overall the evidence is unconvincing.

New research has found that women who smoke are at significantly increased risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm, a condition in which a weak area of the abdominal aorta expands or bulges.


Main article: Health benefits of smoking

The risk of symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis has been frequently shown to be reduced by smokers on a dose-dependent basis; the effect is eliminated if the individual stops smoking.

Preliminary reports suggest that smoking can decrease the incidence of acne prophylactically. This was seen by a decreased percentage ratio of patients needing acne medication versus the percentage of entire population of smokers. (A smaller percentage of patients who smoked needed medication than found in the population as a whole).

Several types of "Smoker’s Paradoxes", (cases where smoking appears to have specific beneficial effects), have been observed; often the actual mechanism remains undetermined.

Nicotine may help enhance memory, at least in adults.

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