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Effects of tobacco on your health

Most people know that smoking tobacco is bad for your lungs, but it actually hurts just about every part of your body. Keep reading to learn about tobacco’s effects from head to toe so you can understand why quitting tobacco will be the one of the best things you could ever do for your body.


Just as nicotine has negative effects on lungs and circulation, it also has negative effects on hair. Smoking is linked to premature graying and loss of hair.


Nicotine changes your brain. The brain develops extra nicotine receptors in response to the nicotine in tobacco. When your brain stops getting the nicotine it’s used to, you experience nicotine withdrawal. Smoking also increases the amount of build-up in your arteries, which may block the flow of blood to your brain, causing a stroke.

Mouth & Teeth

Mouth: Bad breath and losing your sense of taste are well known consequences of tobacco use for your mouth, but there are even more serious ones. Using tobacco is the single greatest risk factor for oral cancer. 

Teeth: Yellow discoloration is only the first issue to occur in teeth. If you smoke a pack a day, you can lose two or more teeth every ten years, according to the Academy of General Dentists.


Cigarettes contain formaldehyde, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which can cause serious irritation to the nose and throat. This results in a runny nose and causes ‘smoker’s cough.’ Continued exposure can produce unusual thickening in the throat lining, a condition that has been linked to throat cancer.


Cigarette smoke attacks the lung’s natural defenses and can completely paralyze the natural cleansing process. Excess mucus in the lungs will make you more likely to get colds, flu, bronchitis and other respiratory infections. Continued exposure can lead to lung cancer and lung diseases – including pneumonia and emphysema. Research indicates smoking causes 90 percent of lung cancer in men and 80 percent in women. More women die from lung cancer than breast cancer.


Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Smoking causes you to lose some of your good cholesterol and raises your blood pressure. It also increases the risk of blood clotting. All of these can lead to coronary heart disease.

Digestive System

Smokers are at greater risk of developing peptic ulcers, Crohn’s disease and gallstones. They are also more likely to experience chronic heartburn. In addition, smoking changes the way the liver operates, including how it processes alcohol.


Smoking deprives the skin of oxygen and nutrients. This is why some smokers appear pale, while others develop uneven coloring. These changes can begin at a young age.


The loss of blood circulation in your hands from smoking causes numbness, and makes your hands cold to the touch. The nicotine in cigarettes can also leave you with permanently yellow-stained fingers and fingernails.

Reproductive System

Male: The more you smoke the higher your risk of impotence. One study showed that men who smoked more than a pack of day had a 60 percent higher risk of erectile dysfunction, compared to men who never smoked.

Female: Women who smoke may also have a harder time getting pregnant. They also have a higher chance of losing their baby before it is born. Studies show there is an increased risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome, also called ‘crib death’) in babies born to female smokers.


Ingredients in cigarette smoke disrupt the natural cycle of bone health. Your body is less able to form healthy new bone tissue, and it breaks down existing bone tissue more rapidly. Over time, smoking leads to a thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density. This causes bones to become weak and brittle. Compared to nonsmokers, smokers have a higher risk of bone fractures, and their broken bones take longer to heal.

Legs & Feet

People who smoke one and a half packs a day or more are most likely to develop Buerger's disease. Buerger’s disease affects blood vessels in the arms and legs. Blood vessels swell, which can prevent blood flow and cause clots to form. This can lead to pain, tissue damage and even gangrene (the death or decay of body tissues). In some cases, amputation may be required.

Long-term health conditions

If you have a long-term health condition, quitting smoking is even more important for you than for the average smoker. The health risks associated with smoking are more serious for people with long-term health conditions. Quitting is the best thing you can do for yourself.

Arthritis and smoking

There are two types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both types can cause long-lasting pain, swelling and mobility issues that get worse as the condition progresses. Smoking doubles your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

When you have arthritis and smoke

  • Your arthritis symptoms may get worse.
  • The more you smoke and the longer you have smoked, the more severe your arthritis is likely to be.
  • You increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (note: the risk is greater for men than women).
  • You reduce oxygen flow to all tissues, including your joints.
  • Smoking weakens how well the drugs used to treat arthritis work.

When you stop smoking

  • Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may improve.
  • The medications you take for arthritis are likely to work better.

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Asthma and smoking

When you have asthma, your airways narrow and swell. They produce extra mucus and breathing becomes difficult. The most common asthma signs and symptoms are coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Smoking only makes it worse.

When you have asthma and smoke

  • You are more likely to have an asthma attack — smoke is a common trigger for asthma attacks.
  • Asthma attacks may be more severe; you are more likely to be hospitalized because of your asthma.
  • You have decreased lung function and capacity.
  • You have increased risk of lung infection.
  • You may require more medication to control your asthma.
  • Your family and friends with asthma are at risk from secondhand smoke.

When you stop smoking

  • Your asthma may go into remission.
  • Asthma attacks can become less frequent and less severe.
  • Your lungs and airways stay clear of smoke, and it’s easier for you to breathe.

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Cancer and smoking

Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells. It can happen in many parts of the body and can spread to other parts of the body. Cigarette smoking causes 87 percent of lung cancer deaths, and is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. The good news is that your chances of getting cancer decrease as soon as you quit smoking – even if you have been a heavy smoker for many years.

When you have cancer and smoke

  • Smoking may make the side effects of cancer treatment worse and make it harder for your body to heal.
  • Smoking while receiving radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery for cancer makes these treatments less effective.
  • Smoking can cause mutations in genes, damaging the way your lungs work and causing your immune system to be less efficient.
  • If you continue to smoke, you are more likely to develop a second cancer in the same place or another type of cancer.

When you stop smoking

  • You are more likely to survive the cancer than if you keep smoking.
  • You have less chance of developing other cancers.
  • Your body heals from cancer treatment more easily.

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Chronic pain and smoking

Chronic pain is pain that persists after an injury has healed. In some cases, the injury never heals, causing an almost constant state of pain. Chronic pain can disrupt your daily routine, get in the way of work and cause anxiety. If you’ve had the same pain for a few months or for much longer than expected, you may have chronic pain. Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to experience chronic pain, especially chronic back pain.

When you have chronic pain and smoke

  • You are likely to experience more intense feelings of pain than someone who doesn’t smoke.
  • You may have increased fatigue.
  • Pain medicines will be less effective, and you may require more medication.
  • Your bones may not heal as fast and you may be at increased risk for chronic pain from osteoporosis or lumbar disk problems.

When you stop smoking

  • You increase the amount of oxygen that reaches your muscles, helping them to work and heal better.
  • Your body will heal itself faster.

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and smoking

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease refers to two diseases that block airflow: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. More than 92 percent of all emphysema cases are caused by smoking, and any damage cannot be reversed. Smokers are 10 times more likely to die from these diseases than nonsmokers.


Emphysema destroys the lungs’ ability to expand and contract, causing problems with the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide and leading to less oxygen in the blood. Symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath, which limit the ability to exercise and do everyday activities.

Chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is the result of swelling and scarring inside the bronchial tubes. It is more common in women than in men. Symptoms include long-lasting cough, shortness of breath and repeated throat clearing.

When you have COPD and smoke

  • Emphysema will continue to worsen because the smoke continues to damage your lungs.
  • You have a higher risk of serious lung infections, like pneumonia.
  • You are likely to need extra oxygen to help you breathe.

When you stop smoking

While the damage to the lungs from smoking cannot be reversed, good things happen when you quit:

  • Your COPD symptoms will likely improve; the damage will not get any worse.
  • You will cough less and be less likely to get lung infections.
  • Your breathing should get better, and you may not need extra oxygen to help you breathe.

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Coronary heart disease and smoking

Coronary heart disease (including coronary artery disease and cardiovascular disease) causes a build-up of plaque that narrows the arteries. This process reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart, which may cause symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath and tiredness – especially with physical activity or emotional stress.

When you have coronary heart disease and smoke

  • You double the chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden cardiac death.
  • You are 10 times more likely to die from heart disease and blood vessel disease than from cancer.
  • You increase your blood pressure and heart rate, which causes damage (clogging and hardening) to your blood vessels.
  • You increase your risk for blood clots.
  • If you are taking birth control pills, you are at even greater risk for heart attacks and strokes.

When you stop smoking

  • You lower your risk of having a heart attack, and of dying from it if a heart attack does occur.
  • You lower your blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Your damaged blood vessels will start to repair themselves.

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Diabetes and smoking

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body metabolizes and uses blood sugar, also known as glucose. Diabetes can damage eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart and blood vessels, and leads to poor circulation and increased risk of infection. Serious complications of diabetes include cardiovascular disease, blindness, kidney disease and amputation.

Type I diabetes

With Type I diabetes, the body stops producing insulin (a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood). About 5-10 percent of people with diabetes in the United States have Type I.

Type II diabetes

Type II is the more common form of diabetes. The body still makes insulin, but doesn’t make enough or can’t use the insulin it makes.

When you have diabetes and smoke

  • Your risk of a stroke is very high.
  • You are more likely to get cancer of the lung, mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas.
  • You have a greater risk for breathing problems and lung diseases, such as COPD, asthma and pneumonia, than people who don’t have diabetes.
  • Blood sugar medications and insulin may not work as well.

When you stop smoking

  • Your extra risk of stroke and heart attack decreases.
  • You will be able to better control your blood sugar
  • You have less risk of having the problems related to diabetes, including loss of vision, kidney disease, nerve damage and skin infections.

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High blood pressure and smoking

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Roughly about 1 of every 3 adults in the United States currently suffer from high blood pressure and people who smoke are more likely to develop it.

When you have high blood pressure and smoke

  • You further increase your blood pressure and decrease the oxygen supply to your heart.
  • You are more likely to develop heart disease and blood clots than people with high blood pressure who don’t smoke.
  • You damage important cells, which speeds the process of hardening of the arteries.
  • You have a greater risk of stroke and kidney disease than people with high blood pressure who don’t smoke.

When you stop smoking

  • You will lower your blood pressure.
  • The oxygen supply to your heart increases.
  • You lessen your risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

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High cholesterol and smoking

High cholesterol is one of the most common risk factors for heart disease. Your total cholesterol level is the sum of two types of cholesterol ― LDL (low-density lipoprotein), known as “bad” cholesterol, and HDL (high-density lipoprotein), known as “good” cholesterol. Healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and being physically active, can help you improve your overall level.

When you have high cholesterol and smoke

  • You have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. The risk increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke, and the risk grows the longer you smoke.
  • You double your risk of cardiovascular disease if you smoke a pack a day.
  • You increase your risk of blood clots, which contributes to hardening of the arteries.

When you stop smoking

  • Your HDL levels may rise. This is especially true in women who quit smoking.
  • Your levels of other blood fats may also improve.

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Stroke and smoking

A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery, or when a blood vessel breaks and interrupts the flow of blood to an area of the brain. This causes cells to die and brain damage to occur.

The severity of a stroke depends on where in the brain it happened, and the level of brain damage. A small stroke may cause only minor problems, such as weakness in an arm or leg. A large stroke can cause paralysis or death. Smoking is a bigger risk factor for stroke than many other causes, including high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure or stress.

Effects of smoking on a stroke:

  • Smokers are about twice as likely to have a stroke as nonsmokers.
  • About one fourth of all strokes in the United States are directly related to smoking.

When you stop smoking

  • You cut your risk of a stroke by 50 percent within one year of quitting smoking. Fifteen years after you quit, your risk is similar to that of a person who never smoked.
  • Even if you’ve already had a stroke, quitting smoking may reduce your risk of having a second one.

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