Cigarettes contain more than 4,000 different chemicals, 50 of which are carcinogenic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. These chemicals cause both short-term and long-term damage to the body, especially the lungs. Some smokers experience shortness of breath due to lung damage. Long-term smoking puts smokers at risk for developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, asthma and lung cancer--all of which produce breathing difficulties.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, just seconds after starting a cigarette, cilia, which help clean out the lungs like little brooms, slow down, and remain slower for hours afterward. In addition, more mucus is produced after smoking, and the mucus is thicker making it more difficult to clear out of the lungs 2.
Smoking & the Cilia
The National Institutes of Health reports that COPD is prevalent, and the leading cause of the disease is smoking 1. The two major forms of COPD are chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. Many people with the disease have a combination of these problems. The NIH notes the following as symptoms of COPD: cough with mucus, shortness of breath, fatigue, wheezing and frequent infections.
- The National Institutes of Health reports that COPD is prevalent, and the leading cause of the disease is smoking 1.
- The NIH notes the following as symptoms of COPD: cough with mucus, shortness of breath, fatigue, wheezing and frequent infections.
In one study of smokers with asthma reported by the "American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine," Dr. Neil C.Thomson and associates at the University of Glasgow looked at asthmatics who continued to smoke, compared to a group of smokers who had quit for six weeks. Dr. Thomson reported that those who quit had considerable improvement in breathing and overall lung function after just one week of not smoking. Dr. Thomson writes, “There is a reversible component to the harmful effects of smoking on the airways in asthma.”
The Effects of Tar in Smoking
Cigarettes put smokers at a higher risk of developing many forms of cancer. The CDC warns that the biggest risk is lung cancer 4. Smokers are between 10 and 20 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer, than are non-smokers. Cancers of the pancreas, mouth and throat, plus cancers of the kidney, bladder and cervix are also more likely to occur for smokers. "Time" magazine reports that approximately 80 percent of people who have lung cancer were smokers.
- Cigarettes put smokers at a higher risk of developing many forms of cancer.
- Smokers are between 10 and 20 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer, than are non-smokers.
There are many benefits to quitting. Within 72 hours of not smoking, there will be, for example, a rapid decrease in breathing-related symptoms. Within one month, you can expect less wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and mucus in the lungs, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Over the long term, risks of dying from diseases such as cancer and COPD are greatly reduced.
- There are many benefits to quitting.
- Within one month, you can expect less wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and mucus in the lungs, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Smoking & the Cilia
The Effects of Tar in Smoking
What Is Heavy Smoking?
Disadvantages of Smoking
The Effects of Smoking on Your Respiratory System
What Happens After 15 Days of Not Smoking?
Breathing Exercises After Quitting Smoking
Smoking and respiratory rate
Ways to Fix Your Lungs After Smoking
What Happens If You Don't Inhale Cigarette Smoke?
- National Institutes of Health: COPD
- UPMC: Smoking and Your Lungs
- Science Daily: Quitting Smoking Improves Lung Function Considerably
- CDC: Risk Factors
- Shield KD, Parry C, Rehm J. Chronic diseases and conditions related to alcohol use. Alcohol Res. 2013;35(2):155-173.
- Apollonio D, Philipps R, Bero L. Interventions for tobacco use cessation in people in treatment for or recovery from substance abuse. Cochrane Libr. 2012;12:1-10. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010274
- Schane RE, Ling PM, Glantz SA. Health effects of light and intermittent smoking: a review. Circulation. 2010;121(13):1518-1522. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.904235
- Siasos G, Tsigkou V, Kokkou E, et al. Smoking and atherosclerosis: mechanisms of disease and new therapeutic approaches. Curr Med Chem. 2014;21(34):3936-3948. doi:10.2174/092986732134141015161539
- Aune D, Schlesinger S, Norat T, Riboli E. Tobacco smoking and the risk of sudden cardiac death: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2018;33(6):509-521. doi:10.1007/s10654-017-0351-y
- American College of Cardiology. Smoking Significantly Increases Risk for Peripheral Artery Disease in Women. 2011.
- Xue J, Yang S, Seng S. Mechanisms of Cancer Induction by Tobacco-Specific NNK and NNN. Cancers (Basel). 2014;6(2):1138-1156. doi:10.3390/cancers6021138
- American Lung Association. What Causes COPD. Updated July 11, 2019.
- American Lung Association. How Serious Is COPD. Updated December 9, 2019.
- Oboni JB, Marques-Vidal P, Bastardot F, Vollenweider P, Waeber G. Impact of smoking on fertility and age of menopause: a population-based assessment. BMJ Open. 2016;6(11):e012015. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012015
- Berlin I, Golmard JL, Jacob N, Tanguy ML, Heishman SJ. Cigarette Smoking During Pregnancy: Do Complete Abstinence and Low Level Cigarette Smoking Have Similar Impact on Birth Weight? Nicotine Tob Res. 2017;19(5):518-524. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntx033
- Shah RS, Cole JW. Smoking and stroke: the more you smoke the more you stroke. Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther. 2010;8(7):917-932. doi:10.1586/erc.10.56
- American Lung Association. Preventing COPD. Updated March 13, 2018.
- Aune D, Schlesinger S, Norat T, Riboli E. Tobacco smoking and the risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):14786. Published 2018 Oct 3. doi:10.1038/s41598-018-32100-2
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease and Stroke.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking During Pregnancy. Updated July 24, 2019.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. Smoking & Tobacco Use. Updated January 10, 2012.
- National Cancer Institute. Tobacco. Updated January 23, 2017.
Assia M. Mortensen has over 12 years of experience as an editor and journalist, and has published hundreds of articles in magazines, newspapers and online at "The Santa Barbara Independent," "Frontiers Magazine," "805 Living Magazine," Huffingtonpost.com, LIVESTRONG.COM and many other outlets. Mortensen graduated from the University of California in Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts in literature and creative writing.