Research remains limited on whether smoking stunts growth. However, smoking may play a role in reduced growth. Additionally, smoking during pregnancy may affect fetal development and growth.

A small shoot growingShare on Pinterest
Flashpop/Getty Images

Evidence is clear that smoking causes adverse health effects, from lung disease to increased cancer risk. Children and teens that smoke or become exposed to secondhand smoke may have additional effects since their bodies and minds are still developing.

This article discusses the effect smoking may have on growth, the effect of passive smoking on growth, other smoking effects, ways to quit, and the general outlook.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2022 statistics suggest about 4 in every 100 middle schoolers and one in six high school students used tobacco products. Although limited research is available on whether smoking inhibits a child’s growth, doctors believe the chemicals in cigarettes may suppress growth.

Smoking and birth weight

What researchers do know is that smoking during pregnancy affects the baby’s birth weight. People that smoke during pregnancy have a higher risk of having a baby with a low birth weight — less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2.49 kilograms).

A 2020 review notes an association between secondhand smoke exposure and stunted growth in children. Since passive smoke may cause restricted growth, it is logical to conclude smoking may also affect growth.

The research included studies that examined growth patterns for children aged 8 years or less exposed to smoking during the prenatal period and childhood. The researchers associated secondhand smoke with adverse growth outcomes in children.

There is likely a combination of factors why smoking may affect growth. For example, smokers inhale carbon monoxide, which affects cell oxygen. Less oxygen to the cells may affect cell growth.

The chemicals in cigarettes may also affect the hypothalamic centers in the brain. The hypothalamus releases and inhibits hormones that act on the pituitary gland and influence growth.

Nicotine may also suppress appetite. Children and teens may not take in enough nutrients for optimal growth.

Research from 2022 also indicated that children exposed to secondhand smoke were lower in height than their peers not exposed to passive smoke. Stunting posed the highest risk for children between 6 and 8 years old.

Learn more about the effects of secondhand smoke.

Smoking may also cause other effects in both adults and children, such as the following:

Decreased physical fitness

Smoking during childhood and adolescence may lead to decreased physical fitness. Smoking can have adverse effects on lung growth and function. This can lead to a lasting effect on physical fitness.

Increased risk of respiratory disease

Research from 2017 found that smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke were a cause of increased lower respiratory illnesses, middle ear disease, and asthma.


Smoking can also be habit-forming. The younger a person starts smoking, the higher their risk of developing a severe nicotine habit. According to the American Lung Association, people who start smoking at a young age have a higher risk of severe nicotine addiction than those who start later.

For people over 18, there are various ways to quit smoking, such as:

  • nicotine replacement products to ease withdrawals
  • medication to ease cravings and reduce withdrawal side effects

Strategies to quit smoking differ somewhat for children and teens under 18. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medication for smoking cessation in children and adolescents, but help to quit smoking is available for young people.

Options to quit smoking for people under 18 include behavior counseling. Counseling may consist of face-to-face or online therapy and peer support groups.

The American Lung Association also operates the Not on Tobacco (N-O-T) program. It provides children and teens with resources and education to stop smoking.

Individuals may also locate resources to stop smoking in their area through a healthcare professional and school counselor.

The outlook of children that smoke or become exposed to secondhand smoke varies. If current patterns continue, about 5.6 million people under 18 years old will die prematurely from a smoking-related illness.

However, quitting smoking as soon as possible reduces the risk of developing diseases such as lung disease. Many smoking cessation options are available to help someone stop smoking.

Evidence remains limited on whether smoking affects a person’s growth, but studies show a link between exposure to secondhand smoke and the adverse effects on a child’s growth. Smoking also may cause an increased risk of respiratory illness, asthma, and decreased physical fitness.

Several options are available that can help someone quit smoking. For adults over 18, options include medication, counseling, and nicotine replacement products. Children and teens may opt for smoking cessation classes and counseling.