How Smoking Affects Your Lungs?

smoking lung

Tobacco smoking is injurious to health — A caption that almost everyone one of us are quite familiar with but still need reasons when asked to quit smoking. According to a 2013 study published online[1], around one-third of the world’s adult population smokes tobacco. As per the statistics, there are around 1.1 billion smokers all around the world which makes every sixth individual is a smoker. Not just active smoking, even passive also known as secondhand smoking causes equally detrimental effects on the health. Globally, it is estimated that smoking causes around 5 million deaths every year[1]. However, what remains underestimated is the fact that it is a leading preventable cause of death.

How Smoking Affects Your Lungs?

If you are one of the millions of people around the world who suffers from a smoking habit, then it’s high time you quit smoking. A person cannot quit something until they really want to and that can only happen when they know the consequences.

Smoking has a direct effect on the respiratory system and more significantly on the lungs. Not many are aware of the fact that tobacco smoke is a toxic mix of more than 7,000 chemicals and compounds[2]. These chemicals and compounds reach the lungs quickly every time you smoke or inhale these compounds. This over time damages the cells of other parts of the body. But the lungs are the first and most affected organs due to smoking.

A common term that is used for the damage that smoking causes to the lungs is called smoking lung or a smoker’s lung. The reason for that is that a smoker’s lung looks distinctively different from that of a non-smoker’s. Here are a few key differences between a smoking lung and a normal lung.   

Breathing Capacity

The lungs are like balloons filled with air which inflate and deflate as a person breathes in and out air. When you smoke, the cigarette smoke and the tar that is present in it gets into the body and through the respiratory tract reaches the lungs. These chemicals that slowly start to damage the air sacs in the lungs which over time can significantly impair lung function. As a result, the lungs fail to perform the function at the same rate and efficiency ultimately affecting the ability to breathe.

The longer you smoke, the more is the damage caused to the lungs and the more difficult it is to repair the organ and restore its function.

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Smoker’s Cough

You must have heard this term before which is described the seemingly endless cough that your smoker friends never seem to recover from. As the name suggests, this symptom is peculiar to the smokers and a common condition that afflicts heavy smokers around the world.

Cigarette smoke contains several harmful chemicals in it such as poisonous metals like arsenic, acetaldehydes, and benzene. All these chemicals can cause serious damage to the cilia (or the hair-like structure) present on the lung’s surface. The function of cilia is to help filter off the pollutants and chemicals from the air you breathe and provide clean air. Any damage to the cilia can not only cause the toxins to enter the lungs but also cause irritation of the air pathways. This over time can affect breathing and also triggers coughing. Chronic bronchitis is a common consequence of having a smoking lung.

Risk of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of deaths caused by the use of tobacco in the world. There are free radicals present in cigarette smoke which damage the lungs severely over a long time[3]. These free radicals act as potential carcinogens (compounds which can cause cancer) and thus, increase the risk of cancer of the lungs. Given the fact that tobacco smoke primarily affects the lungs, the risk of a smoker to get lung cancer is significantly higher than that of a non-smoker. In fact, a male smoker is 25 times more likely to suffer from lung cancer as compared to non-smokers while the risk in female smokers is slightly high. It is found that female smokers are around  25.7 times more likely to suffer from cancer as compared to women who do not smoke[4].

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Can Quitting Improve Lung Function?

The side effects of smoking on the lungs is well-known. However, what most people who smoke need to know that quitting smoking can help you to overcome the ill-effects of smoking on the lungs and help you to lead a better life. Not just lungs, smoking can impair all the major organs in the body right from the heart and brain to the skin and eyes. So it’s high time you kick the butt! And here is how quitting can help lung health.

Various studies have revealed that quitting smoking can help improve lung function. According to the American Lung Association[5], your lung function begins to improve around 2 weeks to 3 months after you quit smoking. This over a span of a year or two can cause the lungs to slowly recover to their normal self along with ensuring normal breathing capacity of the lungs. Your coughing and shortness of breath caused due to excessive smoking can also be improved just one to nine months after you stop taking a puff. And most importantly it also lowers your risk of cancer. Yes, after around 10 years of quitting smoking, your risk of dying from lung cancer is about 50% as that of a smoker.

So stop looking for reasons to quit smoking and start your journey to kick the butt for a healthy and happy life. If you have any stories on quit smoking then do share with us in the comments section and inspire and motivate our readers to stop smoking.

(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)

Recommended Reads:

Top 20 Smoking Myths Busted: No More Excuses To Kick The Butt!

Nicotine Gum: Your Aid To Quitting Smoking


1. Furrukh M. Tobacco Smoking and Lung Cancer: Perception-changing facts. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2013 Aug;13(3):345-58. Epub 2013 Jun 25.

2. Benjamin RM. Exposure to tobacco smoke causes immediate damage: a report of the Surgeon General. Public Health Rep. 2011 Mar-Apr;126(2):158-9.

3. Diplock AT, Charleux JL, Crozier-Willi G, et al. Functional food science and defence against reactive oxygen species. British Journal of Nutrition1998;  80(Suppl 1):S77-S112.

4. CDC – 50th Anniversary Surgeon General’s Report – Smoking & Tobacco Use [Internet]. Smoking and Tobacco Use. 2018 [cited 4 August 2018].

5. Benefits of Quitting. The American Lung Association.

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