How does smoking affect your lungs? UPMC Health Beat (2023)

UPMC HealthBeat Spanish

lung cancer

5 min read

medical examinerUniversity of Pittsburgh Medical Center

How does smoking affect your lungs? UPMC Health Beat (1)


Burning tobacco produces more than 4,000 chemicals, including nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar. These chemicals can turn normal cells into cancer cells.

Learn how to:

  • Smoking changes your lungs and airways.
  • Quitting smoking can help reduce your risk of many health problems – from a difficult cough to life-threatening conditions such as COPD andcancer
  • Secondhand smoke is harmful to the lungs.

Effects of cigarettes on the lungs and airways

Smoking can cause significant changes in the lungs and airways. Some changes are sudden and last only a short time, such as colds and pneumonia. Other, more chronic changes happen slowly and can last a lifetime -- such as emphysema.

Here are some of the changes that happen to your lungs and airways when you smoke.

more mucus and infection

When you smoke, the size and number of mucus-producing cells in your lungs and airways increase. As a result, mucus volume increases and thickens.

Your lungs cannot effectively remove excess mucus. As a result, mucus can lodge in your airways, clogging them and causing you to cough. This excess mucus is also susceptible to infection.

Smoking causes accelerated aging of the lungs and blocks their natural defense mechanisms to protect you from infection.

less airflow

Smoking can inflame and irritate the lungs. Even a cigarette or two can cause irritation and coughing.

Smoking also damages your lungs and lung tissue. This reduces the air space and number of blood vessels in the lungs, resulting in less oxygen to key parts of the body.

less cilia

The lungs are lined with broom-like hairs called cilia that clean the lungs.

A few seconds after lighting a cigarette, the movement of the cilia slows down. Smoking just one cigarette can slow down the activity of cilia for several hours. Smoking also reduces the number of cilia in the lungs, resulting in fewer cilia that do not properly clean the lungs.

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Additional health risks from smoking


Smoking can do a lot of damage to your circulatory system. Because the tar in cigarettes contains harmful chemicals, your blood can become infected with them when you smoke. When these poisons enter your bloodstream:

  • When your blood becomes thicker, your risk of blood clots increases.
  • Your blood pressure and heart rate increase, causing your heart to work harder.
  • Your arteries become thinner, which reduces the amount of oxygen-carrying blood that circulates to your organs.


Smoking is also pretty bad for your brain. Smokers are 50% more likely to have a stroke than non-smokers. As a result, smokers are twice as likely to die from a stroke.


Your digestive system, especially your stomach, can be severely affected by smoking. Smoking weakens the esophagus, allowing stomach acid to pass in the wrong direction. This process is called reflow.


Although few people know, smoking reduces the amount of oxygen your skin absorbs. In other words, smoking can cause skin to age 10 to 20 years faster. Facial wrinkles are likely to appear around the eyes and mouth.

How quitting smoking can benefit your health

When you smoke, your chances of developing health problems are greater.

Breathing-Related Health Problems Caused by Smoking

When you smoke:When you log out:
  • Chronic cough.
  • More slime.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • respite.
  • No matter how much or how long you have smoked, breathing-related symptoms will decrease quickly.
  • Breathe easier for 72 hours.
  • Significant reduction in coughing, mucus, shortness of breath and wheezing within 1 month.
  • Reduces airway irritation and inflammation.
  • Cilia grow in one to nine months.
  • The lungs are better able to process mucus, cleanse themselves and fight infection.


asthmaIt is a chronic airway disease. People with asthma experience shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and coughing.

When you smoke:When you log out:
  • Asthma symptoms are more difficult to control.
  • Many inhalers are not that effective.
  • Asthma symptoms are reduced.

colds and lung infections

When you smoke:When you log out:
  • More colds and lung infections.
  • More severe colds and lung infections.
  • Fewer colds and lung infections.
  • Mild colds and lung infections.

flu and pneumonia

Smoking leads to increased death tollinfluenzaand pneumonia. Deaths from flu and pneumonia have also fallen as smoking has declined.

When you smoke:When you log out:
  • Flu attacks are more frequent and worse.
  • There is a greater chance of getting pneumonia.
  • Poor response to flu vaccine.
  • Reduced risk of pneumonia by 50% over five years.
  • Influenza attacks were less frequent and less severe.
  • Have a better response to the flu shot.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Smoking is the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) blocks air from moving in and out of the lungs. This is a major reason for America.

When you smoke, yourRisk of dying from COPDyesmore than 10 timescompared to not smoking.

COPD includes two diseases:chronic bronchitisandemphysema

When you have chronic bronchitis:When you quit smoking:
  • You have a chronic cough every year.
  • Coughing can produce excess mucus that blocks airflow.
  • Symptoms of chronic bronchitis were relieved.
  • Symptoms of chronic bronchitis may disappear over time.
When you have emphysema:When you quit smoking:
  • Over time, it can damage your lung tissue.
  • Your lungs are less able to take in fresh air and expel stale air.
  • Your lungs and airways produce excess mucus, which blocks airflow.
  • Your emphysema symptoms will improve slightly and immediately.
  • The condition will slow down.
  • You have a better chance of living longer.

lung cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. reasons for smoking85% of lung cancer cases

Smokers have more airway precancerous lesions than non-smokers.

When you smoke:When you log out:
  • Precancerous tissue can turn into cancer.
  • Your risk of lung cancer and death is 20 times that of a non-smoker.
  • This risk increases the more you smoke and the longer you smoke.
  • Precancerous tissue may return to normal.
  • Your risk of lung cancer decreases within five years.
  • Your risk of lung cancer decreases over time.

How secondhand smoke affects your lungs

When people smoke, they pollute the air around them. This secondhand smoke has two sources:

  1. The burning end of a cigarette.
  2. When a smoker exhales smoke.

Researchers studied adult non-smokers who inhaled cigarette smoke in the workplace, and the results showed that the lungs of these adults were damaged.

when you inhale secondhand smoke, you may have health problems such as:

  • respite.
  • Chronic cough.
  • Increased mucus.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Difficulty controlling asthma.
  • More lung infections and pneumonia.
  • lung cancer.

In the United States, there are approximately3,000 people died from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke

Stay away from secondhand smoke.

Get Help to Quit Smoking

UPMC offers a smoking cessation program to help people quit smoking. For help or to learn more about our smoking cessation programs, please callUPMC Referral Serviceexist1-800-533-UPMC (8762)

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on, last reviewed on

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