Smoking cigarettes can have many adverse effects on the body. Some of these can lead to life threatening complications. Smoking increases a person’s risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and more.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking harms almost all organs in the body and causes many diseases. It reduces the health of smokers in general.

Smoking cigarettes affects the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the reproductive system, the skin, and the eyes, and it increases the risk of many cancers.

This article looks at 13 possible effects of smoking cigarettes.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms, “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Smoking cigarettes damages the lungs because a person inhales nicotine, among other chemicals.

Cigarettes are responsible for a substantial increase in the risk of developing lung cancer. This risk is 25 times greater for men and 25.7 times for women.

The CDC reports that roughly 9 out of 10 lung cancer deaths are linked to smoking.

Smoking cigarettes also presents a greater risk of developing and dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). The American Lung Association report that smoking causes 80% of COPD deaths.

Cigarettes also relate to developing emphysema and chronic bronchitis. They can also trigger or exacerbate an asthma attack.

Smoking cigarettes can damage the heart, blood vessels, and blood cells.

The chemicals and tar in cigarettes can increase a person’s risk of atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels. This buildup limits blood flow and can lead to dangerous blockages.

Smoking also increases the risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD), which occurs when the arteries to the arms and legs start to narrow, restricting blood flow.

Research shows a direct link between smoking and developing PAD — even those who used to smoke face a higher risk than people who never smoked.

Having PAD increases the risk of:

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Image credit: Stephen Kelly, 2019.

Smoking cigarettes can damage a female’s reproductive system and make it more difficult to get pregnant. This may be because tobacco and the other chemicals in cigarettes affect hormone levels.

In males, the risk of erectile dysfunction increases the more they smoke and the length of time they smoke for. Smoking can also affect the quality of the sperm and therefore reduce fertility.

According to the CDC, smoking can affect pregnancy and the developing fetus in several ways, including:

The CDC report that people who smoke regularly have a 30–40% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who do not.

Smoking can also make it more difficult for people with diabetes to manage their condition.

Smoking cigarettes can weaken a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to illness.

It can also cause additional inflammation in the body.

Smoking cigarettes can cause eye problems, including a greater risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.

Other vision problems related to smoking include:

People who smoke have double the risk of gum disease. This risk increases with the number of cigarettes a person smokes.

Symptoms of gum disease include:

Smoking tobacco can limit a person’s ability to taste and smell things properly. It can also stain the teeth yellow or brown.

The integumentary system consists of a person’s skin, hair, and nails.

Smoking tobacco can affect a person’s skin and hair. A person who smokes may experience prematurely aged, wrinkled skin. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, some of the long-term effects of smoking include:

  • baggy eyes
  • deeper facial wrinkles
  • dry skin
  • furrows
  • saggy jawline
  • uneven skin pigmentation

People who smoke also have a higher risk of skin cancer, particularly on the lips.

Smoking can cause the hair and skin to smell like tobacco. It can contribute to hair loss and balding. It can also cause discoloration of the nails, causing them to become yellowed or brown.

In addition to the well-documented link with lung cancer, smoking cigarettes contributes to other cancers.

The American Cancer Society report that cigarette smoking causes 20–30% of pancreatic cancers.

People who smoke are also three times as likely to develop bladder cancer than people who do not.

Smoking cigarettes can also double a person’s risk of stomach cancer. Research links tobacco to cancer in the upper part of the stomach, near the esophagus. This is known as esophageal cancer.

Cigarettes can also increase the risk of:

Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for a person developing intestinal disorders.

Smokers are more likely to develop gastritis — inflammation in the stomach lining — than non-smokers, which can lead to ulcers in their stomachs or intestines.

Smoking may also cause delayed emptying of the stomach and slowed peristalsis.

The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord, which control all physical and mental activities.

A smoker’s central nervous system becomes damaged because nicotine causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, which causes these organs to weaken over time.

According to a 2021 study, smoking tobacco and nicotine seriously impacts neurological health.

The study reports that smoking is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

The ill effects of smoking cigarettes do not only affect people who smoke.

Secondhand smoke can also significantly affect family members, friends, children, and coworkers.

Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), evidence has also linked secondhand smoke to other cancers, including throat and breast cancer.

Children whose parents smoke get sick more often, have more lung infections and are more likely to have shortness of breath.

If a fetus or baby is exposed to secondhand smoke, they may be at risk of childhood cancers such as:

While quitting smoking can be challenging, the CDC reports that today, more people used to smoke than people who currently smoke.

Once a person stops smoking, the benefits start accumulating. These include clearer skin, improved oral health, more stable hormones, a stronger immune system, and a reduced risk of many types of cancers.

Some other benefits of quitting smoking include:

  • After 20 minutes–12 hours: Heart rate and carbon monoxide in the blood drop to normal levels.
  • After 1 year: The risk of a heart attack is much lower, as is blood pressure. Coughing and upper respiratory problems begin to improve.
  • After 2–5 years: The risk of stroke drops to that of someone who does not smoke, according to the CDC.
  • After 5–15 years: The risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancer is reduced by half.
  • After 10 years: The risk of lung and bladder cancer is half that of someone who currently smokes.
  • After 15 years: The risk of heart disease is similar to that of someone who never smoked.

Nicotine is an addictive drug and can cause withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using it. These symptoms include cravings, increased appetite, and irritability. Cravings and other effects typically subside over time.

A doctor or other healthcare professional can help a person take positive steps toward quitting smoking.

Read about some simple steps to quit smoking here.

Smoking cigarettes harms a person’s health and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and different types of cancer.

Other effects of smoking include fertility problems, poor oral hygiene, skin problems, and an increased risk of neurological disorders.

Quitting smoking reduces the risk of health problems such as stroke and heart disease and improves a person’s overall health.