Does Smoking Cigarettes Stunt Growth?

iwoman smoking image by csaba fikker from

The news just keeps getting worse for smoking. That smoking is linked to lung cancer, emphysema, asthma, heart disease, stroke and tooth decay is old news. As if these health risks are not enough, smoking is now linked to stunted growth in adolescents and teens. Smoking leads to irreversible consequences for height, lung development and bone growth that will affect an individual’s health and appearance throughout an entire lifetime.

Adult Height in Boys

A study funded by the Canadian Cancer Society determined that smoking stunts height and BMI in boys. BMI, or body mass index, measures body fat based upon height and weight. Boys who smoked 10 cigarettes a day between the ages of 12 and 17 grew about 1 inch shorter than nonsmoking boys. Smoking’s effect on BMI and height means that a boy who smokes as a teenager will have a significantly smaller adult stature than his non-smoking piers.

Weight Control in Girls

Despite the commonly held myth among teenage girls that smoking can control weight gain or even help them lose weight, the Canadian Cancer Society study found no difference in weight loss between girls who smoked and girls who did not. Of the subjects who participated in the study, girls who smoked had similar BMIs to girls who did not smoke. However, a study in the February 2009 issue of the American Journal of Public Health reported a different health risk: Girls who smoke 10 cigarettes per day or more are at risk for abdominal obesity. Their waist sizes are 1.34 inches larger than nonsmokers’ waists are as young adults.

Lung Development

According to a study published in the Harvard University Gazette, adolescents as young as 10 have exhibited smoking-related lung damage. Even as few as five cigarettes a day caused airway obstruction and delayed growth in lung functioning. The more an adolescent smoked, the greater the damage to lung capacity.

Bone Growth

Smoking thwarts bone growth in adolescence and adulthood. Smoking during adolescence is also a major risk factor in developing osteoporosis later in life. Especially for girls, who already have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, smoking can have detrimental effects on bone density. For teenage and adult male and female smokers, decreased bone density can result in osteoporosis, arthritis and bone fractures.

Fetal and Infant Development

Fetal exposure to tobacco smoke results in lower birth weight and delayed development in infancy. Exposure to smoke during fetal and infant development increases a child’s risk of respiratory tract infections, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, behavioral problems and cognitive deficiencies, among other health conditions. Pregnant women should stay away from smokers.