Do you know what smoking does to your lungs?

If you need another incentive to quit, find out how the chemicals in cigarette smoke could be harming your lungs We all know that smoking is bad for our health. It can affect almost every organ and system inside the body.1

But you might not know exactly how it damages one of its first ports of call – our lungs.

Cigarette smoke damages the airways

The chemicals in cigarette smoke don’t just irritate the airways carrying air to the lungs.2 They also damage the clusters of tiny air sacs deep inside the lungs: the alveoli. Over time, the thin walls of these air sacs fuse together, forming larger air spaces than normal. This means smokers’ lungs are less efficient at moving oxygen into the bloodstream, which reduces how much oxygen can be transported around the body to the organs and tissues.3 Eventually this causes emphysema, one of the chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD).4 Common symptoms of COPD include:5
  • chesty cough with phlegm
  • breathlessness
  • chest infections
  • wheezing

Smoking ‘paralyses’ the lungs

There are millions of tiny hairs inside your windpipe and the airways leading to your lungs. These hairs are called cilia, and they have a very important job – to protect the lungs. They do this by sweeping mucus, dirt and other particles away from the lungs and back out of the airways.6 But one of the major effects of smoking on lungs is to paralyse these hairs, which allows mucus to build up. This is one of the reasons for smoker’s cough, and it can lead to chronic bronchitis, another COPD.7

You may develop asthma

A 2013 study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, reported that smoking’s impact on the lungs makes you more likely to develop asthma if you smoke.8 You’re even more at risk if you’re a woman – a population study by the University of Ottawa in Ontario found that female smokers are nearly twice as likely to have asthma than non-smoking women.9 Scientists think that the male hormone testosterone helps protect men’s lungs from the type of inflammation that causes asthma.10

It increases your risk of lung cancer

There are more than 60 substances that can cause cancer in cigarette smoke, which collect inside the tar that builds up in your lungs when you smoke.

It’s close contact with these chemicals that increase your risk of developing lung cancer – smoking causes 85% of all lung cancers in the UK.11 So it’s best to stop smoking sooner rather than later to help look after your lungs.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.

Shop our Vitamins and Supplements range Sources
  1. National Cancer Institute. Harms of Cigarette Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting. Available from: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet
  2. European Lung Foundation. Smoking and the lungs. Available from: http://www.europeanlung.org/assets/files/en/publications/smoking-and-the-lungs-en.pdf
  3. BBC Bitesize. Respiratory system. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/education/guides/z6h4jxs/revision/5
  4. Cleveland Clinic. Emphysema. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9370-emphysema
  5. NHS Choices. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd/
  6. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Highlights: Scientific Review of Findings Regarding Respiratory Disease. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/2010/highlight_sheets/pdfs/scientific_respiratory.pdf
  7. NHS Choices. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd/
  8. Polosa R and Thomson NC. Smoking and asthma: dangerous liaisons. Available from: http://erj.ersjournals.com/content/erj/41/3/716.full.pdf
  9. Chen Y, et al. Increased effects of smoking and obesity on asthma among female Canadians: the National Population Health Survey, 1994-1995. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10430229
  10. Laffont S, et al. Androgen signalling negatively controls group 2 innate lymphoid cells. Available from: http://jem.rupress.org/content/early/2017/05/05/jem.20161807
  11. NHS Choices. Lung cancer. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lung-cancer/causes/
Smoking