Smoking and Your Health

Smoking and COPD

Smoking is the main cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD is the name for a collection of lung diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. At least 4 out of 5 people who develop the disease are, or have been, smokers. The lining of the airways becomes inflamed and permanently damaged by smoking. This damage cannot be reversed. Around 10-25% of smokers develop COPD.

Every cigarette you smoke causes you harm

Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, accounting for nearly 80,000 deaths each year. One in two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.

If you could see the damage, you’d stop.



Tar in tobacco smoke contains many poisons. When you smoke, these poisons enter your blood stream and can cause harm to your body in the following ways:

  • Increase your blood pressure and heart rate, making your heart work harder than normal
  • Cause narrowing of the arteries, increasing blood pressure and reducing the amount of oxygenated blood circulating to your organs
  • Make your blood thicker, increasing the chance of clot formation which can lead to heart attacks, embolisms and stroke



Smoking damages your heart and circulatory system, increasing the risk of conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease and cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to your brain).

Nicotine is a stimulant and puts strain on the heart by making it work faster. Carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the body’s oxygen supply which make the heart work even harder.  Both Nicotine and carbon monoxide increase the risk of blood clots. Other chemicals in cigarette smoke damage the lining of the coronary arteries, leading to furring and narrowing.

Smoking doubles the risk of heart attack, and if you smoke you have twice the risk of dying from coronary heart disease than someone who has never smoked.

After only one year of not smoking, your risk of having a heart attack is reduced by half. After stopping for 15 years, your risk is similar to that of someone who has never smoked.



Smoking increases your risk of having a stroke by at least 50%. A stroke can cause brain damage, disability and death.



Smokers have an increased chance of getting stomach cancer or ulcers. Smoking can weaken the muscle that controls the lower end of your gullet (oesophagus) and allows stomach acid to travel in the wrong direction back up your gullet, a process known as reflux.



Smoking increases the risk of developing kidney cancer, and the more you smoke the greater the risk. For example, research has shown that if you regularly smoke 10 cigarettes a day, you are one and a half times more likely to develop kidney cancer compared with a non-smoker. This is increased to twice as likely if you smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day.



Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to your skin. If you smoke, your skin looks grey and dull and ages more quickly. Smoking prematurely ages your skin by between 10 and 20 years, and makes it three times more likely you’ll get facial wrinkling, particularly around the eyes and mouth.



Smoking can cause your bones to become weak and brittle.


 Mouth and throat

Smoking can cause gum disease and damage your sense of taste.  It also causes unattractive problems such as bad breath and stained teeth

The most serious damage smoking causes in your mouth and throat is an increased risk of cancer in your lips, tongue, throat, larynx (voice box) and oesophagus. More than 93% of throat cancers are caused by smoking.

The good news is that when you stop using tobacco, even after many years of use, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing head and neck cancer. Within 20 years of not smoking, your risk of head and neck cancer is reduced to that of a non-smoker.


Reproduction and fertility

Smoking can cause male impotence/erectile dysfunction, as it damages the blood vessels that supply blood to the penis. It can also damage sperm, reduce sperm count and cause testicular cancer. Up to 120,000 men from the UK in their 20s and 30s are impotent as a direct result of smoking, and men who smoke have a lower sperm count than those who are non-smokers.

For women, smoking can reduce fertility making it more difficult to conceive. It is estimated that the fertility of women who smoke is 72% that of non-smokers.

Smoking also increases your risk of cervical cancer. People who smoke are less able to get rid of the HPV infection from the body, which can develop into cancer.

Smoking while you are pregnant can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and illness, and it increases the risk of cot death by at least 25%.

If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy you can find more information here.



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