Long-Term Health Risks Of Smoking

Smoking and cancer

Smoking increases your risk of over 50 diseases and one of the main health risks associated with smoking is cancer. There are hundreds of different forms of cancer and the most prevalent form in smokers is lung cancer. The NHS estimates that 90 per cent of cases of lung cancer are linked to smoking.

Smoking increases the risk of cancer because cigarettes contain hundreds of toxic chemicals; research has suggested that at least 60 chemicals found in cigarettes are known to increase the risk of cancer; examples include tar, carbon monoxide and benzene. As well as increasing the risk of lung cancer, smoking has also been identified as an influential risk factor for liver, bladder, bowel, oral, pancreatic and oesophageal cancer. The chemicals contained in cigarettes affect the DNA in the cells, which contributes to abnormal growth and cell division.


COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a serious respiratory disease, which leads to breathing difficulties, which increase in severity as the disease progresses. Smoking is directly linked to 80 per cent of deaths from COPD in the UK. The main symptoms of COPD include:

  • breathlessness
  • struggling to breathe during and after exercise
  • persistent chesty cough
  • wheezing
  • increased susceptibility to coughs, colds and chest infections (this is particularly evident in the winter months)


Smoking may not cause asthma, but it does contribute to more severe symptoms in people who already suffer with asthma. Smoking causes harmful substances to build up and collect in the lining of the bronchioles and lungs and this can trigger an asthma attack in an asthma sufferer; attacks vary in severity, but in extreme cases, they can be fatal. Smoking can also lead to damage in the airways, which reduces the efficacy of asthma medication. There is also evidence to suggest that passive smoking may increase the risk of asthma in children. 

Heart attacks and strokes

According to the British Heart Foundation, smoking increases the risk of having a heart attack by almost 50 per cent; if you are a smoker, this means that you are almost twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as a non-smoker. Smoking increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes by increasing the risk of atherosclerosis, which occurs when fatty deposits collect in the lining of the arteries; this affects blood flow and the delivery of oxygen around the body and to the brain. Smoking also increases the risk of blood clots, which also increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks. 


Smoking may increase the risk of osteoporosis, also known as weak or brittle bones, because it affects the ability of the bone cells to regenerate and rebuild new tissue; smoking can also have an adverse effect on the balance of hormones in the body and may reduce oestrogen levels; oestrogen is important for maintaining bone strength. People who have osteoporosis are more likely to suffer injuries, including fractures, when they fall or slip. 

Early smoking

A review of more than ten research studies suggested that smoking was a factor in the age a woman reaches smoking; the review suggested that women who smoke reach smoking between 1 and 2 years earlier than non-smokers. 


Smoking is known to affect your immunity, the ability to fight off illnesses and infections. When you smoke, your white blood cell count remains high and this is a sign that the body perceives that it is under attack; a high white blood cell count is linked to an elevated risk of strokes, heart attacks and cancer. Smoking also affects your ability to heal following an illness, injury or a surgical procedure; this occurs because nicotine compresses the blood vessels, which decreases blood supply to the organs, reducing the amount of oxygen and nutrients they receive. This not only slows down the healing process, but also increases the risk of infection. The chemicals in cigarettes also compromise the immune system, making you less resistant to illness and less able to fight off signs of infections and common ailments, such as coughs and colds. 

Life expectancy

Research indicates that smokers are more likely to die earlier than non-smokers; studies suggest that around half of smokers die from diseases and conditions directly linked to smoking; average life expectancy is believed to be around 10 years shorter for long-term smokers than non-smokers. 


Smoking is known to have an adverse effect on both female and male fertility. In women, smoking can damage the lining of the womb, while it can also affect the mobility and potency of male sperm and sperm count. Giving up smoking can help to improve fertility and increase the chances of having a baby. A study cited by the NHS suggested that people who smoke are three times more likely to struggle to conceive in less than 12 months than non-smokers. 


Smoking affects circulation and it can also lead to damaged blood vessels, which may affect blood supply to the penis, resulting in impotence (also known as erectile dysfunction). It is estimated that around 120,000 men in the UK suffer from impotence as a direct result of smoking. 

Damaged, aged skin

Smoking also damages your skin and contributes to premature ageing, as the amount of oxygen travelling to the skin cells is lower. Long term smoking ages your skin by between 10 and 20 years and it increases the risk of skin folds, wrinkles and lines; you may also find that your skin has a yellow or grey tone and it looks dry and dull. Smoking can also increase your risk of cellulite, as cigarettes contain a number of toxic substances. 

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