How Smoking Affects your Lungs

Updated on 18 August 2022

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India is home to 12% of the world's smokers. More than 1 million die each year due to tobacco in India i.e. 9.5% of all deaths – and the death toll is still on a constant rise.

Cigarettes have made their way from a mere status symbol to doctor’s prescription pads to now being one of the leading causes of cancer and other cardiovascular diseases. Today, tobacco is ranked fifth among the risk factors driving the most deaths and disabilities in India (2017).

So what happens to your lungs when you smoke?

With every breath we take, our lungs cleanse our bodies. And when we inhale a cigarette, we expose the entire respiratory tract to all its harmful effects. The smoke starts sticking to our respiratory path, leading to our body absorbing less and less oxygen, which along with increased infections, leads to a higher risk for chronic nonreversible lung conditions such as:

  • Emphysema, the destruction of the air sacs in your lungs
  • Chronic Bronchitis, permanent inflammation that affects the lining of the breathing tubes of the lungs
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of lung diseases
  • Lung cancer

In addition,

  • Smoking inflames and irritates the lungs causing throat irritation and coughing.
  • Damages the nerve endings in your lungs which reduce the flow of oxygen to other body parts.
  • Cilia are a hair-like lining inside our lungs, responsible to keep our lungs clean. Even after smoking just one cigarette, cilia’s movement reduces. For regular smokers the number of cilia also reduces.
  • Our air passage requires mucus to function but when you smoke the mucus-secreting cells enlarge or grow in number, resulting in an unhealthy amount of mucus in your body.
  • Lastly, smoking causes your lungs to age faster and hinders their natural defence mechanisms from protecting you against infection in general.

Common myths

Only regular smokers face health issues. Well, that’s not true, your body is harmed even if you smoke one cigarette. The signs are clearer with regular smokers as they expose more and more consistent smoke to their bodies. The intensity of harm caused increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke and for how long you have been smoking. Simply put: if you want to reduce health risks, quitting altogether should be your goal.

I can quit whenever I want and my health will bounce back

Yes, quitting can be a decision a person can take at any stage of their life but the reversal of the damage already caused by past smoking can take years, if at all.

For a light smoker, the signs of damage may start fading out after a year of them quitting but for a heavy smoker the impacts can be either irreversible or take years for their body to fully recover.

To conclude, while most people are generally aware that smoking is not healthy, knowledge about the extent of health risks is till poor. Besides lung and cardiovascular problems smoking also leads to other health risks like cervical cancer, osteoporosis, early menopause, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, infertility, cataracts, periodontitis, hip fractures, peptic ulcers, low bone density, mood stimulation, anxiety, depression, unhealthy teeth, poor vision, wrinkly skin, diabetes complications and blood clotting to name a few. Do you think this list is good enough to make you quit? Think Smart!!!






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