World No Tobacco Day: Common Lung Diseases Caused By Smoking

lung diseases and smoking

31st May every year is observed as World No Tobacco Day. The focus for 2019 is on “Tobacco and Lung health” with the aim to raise awareness about the negative impact of tobacco on the lungs.

Tobacco is undoubtedly one of the leading causes of preventable deaths across the globe. According to a 2012 study[1], it kills nearly six million people every year, which is more than the deaths caused by tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. India, being the second largest consumer of tobacco worldwide, accounts for around 1/6th deaths caused by tobacco which is equal to 1 million deaths per year[2]. What is more shocking is the fact that the cases of tobacco are increasing on a regular basis. As per the recent estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco caused around 100 million premature deaths in the 20th century and if the trend continues, it can cause around 1 billion deaths in the 21st century[1].

Off all the organs that are affected by tobacco smoke, the lungs are the most affected. So this ‘World No Tobacco Day’ we shed some light on the common lung diseases caused due to tobacco. Before we divulge into the role of tobacco and its impact on the lungs, here are a few interesting facts everyone needs to know about the use of tobacco.

– The use of tobacco is more prevalent in men as compared to women. It is found that 48% of men and 20% of women in India use tobacco[2].

– Tobacco is commonly used for smoking. However, there are a variety of ways in which it can be used such as chewing, applying, sucking, sniffing, gargling, etc[2].

– It is reported that around 14% of adults smoke tobacco whereas around 26% use smokeless tobacco (which include the use of tobacco in other forms)[1]

– The presence of nicotine in tobacco is responsible for getting addicted to cigarettes and other forms of tobacco. The nicotine content in a rod of cigarette can range from 5.7 mg to 13 mg whereas a packet of gutkha or khaini contains approximately 1.7 to 76 mg of nicotine based on the product[3].

– Around one-third of adults across the globe are exposed to secondhand smoke, which is three to four times more toxic than regular tobacco smoke. As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS)-India around 52% of adults are exposed to secondhand smoke at home[1].

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Common Lung Diseases Caused By Smoking

Tobacco smoke contains toxins which when inhaled repeatedly for a long time can cause the lung tissue to become scarred. It can also impair its elasticity and ability to exchange oxygen as a result causing lung diseases. Smoking can also make a chronic condition more severe and may also increase the risk of respiratory infections. Here are three of the most dangerous lung diseases that can be caused by smoking:

1. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Studies have reported that eight out of 10 cases of COPD are caused due to smoking[4]. The toxins in the tobacco smoke enter the body through the mouth and nose. These chemicals get absorbed by the lungs which damage the tissues and cells causing lung injury. COPD is one of the most common side-effects of smoking. Smoking cigarettes or hookahs also damages air sacs that exist within the lungs, along with the lung lining, and airways[5]. This makes it difficult for a smoker to breathe harder and can severely impact the lung function and quality of life. Over time, the damaged airways can impair oxygen supply and cause death of the person due to lack of oxygen.

2. Emphysema

Another common yet notorious lung disease caused by smoking is emphysema. This disease is caused by the complete destruction of air sacs. Chronic inflammation of the lungs due to tobacco smoke can lead to increased oxidative stress and result in impaired lung function[6].  A common nasty sign of emphysema is chronic inflammation of the respiratory system. It causes recurrent coughing almost daily which become severe over time. This lung disease is quite commonly seen in smokers and is called smoker’s cough.

3. Lung Cancer

Lung cancer (LC) is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in India as well as the world. Tobacco smoking is the most important risk factor for LC in both genders. It is the presence of free radicals and various chemicals in tobacco which is carcinogenic (cancer-causing) in nature[7]. These free radicals in cigarette smoke are responsible for lung cancer. Moreover, a smoker’s lung can get damaged adversely over a period of time due to the chemicals present in tobacco smoke. Some of the carcinogenic chemicals present in cigarettes include benzene, formaldehyde such as acetaldehyde, and poisonous metals like arsenic.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of male smokers to get lung cancer is around 25%, whereas that of women smokers is slightly higher[8]. Moreover, around 90% of all cancer deaths in men and 80% of those in women are caused due to smoking[9]. An increased risk of lung cancer has been linked with passive smoking as well as bidi smoking.

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Moreover, smoking can also increase the risk of asthma and tuberculosis. It is seen that smokers who had TB are more likely to have a recurrence of TB as compared to nonsmokers. Exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger severe asthma attacks in both children and adults, which in extreme cases, can cause death.

Even though there is plenty of research to back these facts up, smokers still do not believe them and continue smoking. Lung diseases are the natural consequence of smoking and sooner or later affect every smoker. The only way to prevent them is to quit completely which slowly and significantly reduces all the health risks

Comment below and share your experience with other people trying to quit smoking. If you have been successful already, then hearing your story might inspire others, and we encourage you to share it with us!

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

Recommended Reads:

Top 20 Smoking Myths Busted: No More Excuses To Quit Smoking!

Tips To Help YOU Quit Smoking!!


1. Mishra GA, Pimple SA, Shastri SS. An overview of the tobacco problem in India. Indian J Med Paediatr Oncol. 2012 Jul;33(3):139-45.

2. Malhi R, Gupta R, Basavaraj P, et al. Tobacco Control in India; A Myth or Reality- Five Year Retrospective Analysis Using WHO MPOWER for Tobacco Control. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Nov;9(11):ZE06-9.

3. Divinakumar K J, Patra P, Prakash J, Daniel A. Prevalence and patterns of tobacco use and nicotine dependence among males industrial workers. Ind Psychiatry J 2017;26:19-23.

4. Smoking and Respiratory diseases. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking & Health. %0th Anniversary. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

5. CDC. CDC – Basics About COPD- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) [Internet]. 2018 [cited 16 October 2018].

6. Sharafkhaneh A, Hanania N, Kim V. Pathogenesis of Emphysema: From the Bench to the Bedside. Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society. 2008;5(4):475-477.

7. 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.

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

9. Shah S, Dave B, Shah R, Mehta TR, Dave R. Socioeconomic and cultural impact of tobacco in India. J Family Med Prim Care. 2018 Nov-Dec;7(6):1173-1176.

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