What Smoking Does to Your Body

Medically Reviewed By Alan Carter, Pharm.D.
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Smoking causes or worsens many diseases, and it damages almost every tissue and organ in the body. Smoking is an unhealthy behavior that can become an addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is the leading cause of preventable disability, disease, and death in the United States. Smoking includes all forms of smoking, such as cigar smoking, cigarette smoking, pipe smoking, and exposure to secondhand smoke. All forms of smoking are harmful, and there is no form of safe or safer smoking. Even smoking mentholated, natural, low-tar, or low-nicotine cigarettes does not lower the risk of serious complications.

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.

What are the health effects of smoking?

A person smoking
Branislava Živić/Stocksy United

Smoking harms almost every organ in your body. It exposes you to thousands of chemicals, many of which are toxic. These chemicals include:

  • nicotine, a highly addictive drug
  • formaldehyde
  • cyanide
  • ammonia
  • arsenic
  • lead

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.

How does smoking affect your body?

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.

Lungs

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. 

Reproductive system

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
  • stillbirths
  • congenital disorders
  • premature or low-weight births
  • SIDS

Mouth

Eyes

Other cancers that smoking can cause

Other effects of smoking

What are the symptoms of smoking-related diseases and conditions?

Smoking has a wide impact on your body, so the symptoms of smoking-related diseases and conditions vary. If you smoke, you may experience:

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:

What causes people to smoke?

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.

What are the risk factors for starting to smoke?

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:

How can you quit smoking?

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:

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

FAQ

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.

Summary

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.

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Medical Reviewer: Alan Carter, Pharm.D.
Last Review Date: 2022 May 17
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.