Smoking and health

Smokers are often aware of health risks, but are often misinformed of the potential health consequences of their habit. There are also risks to those in close proximity to smokers through second-hand smoke; this includes exhaled smoke from the smoker and smoke from a lighted cigarette.

Smokers should therefore be made aware that smoking in all forms carries severe health risks( even ‘light’ cigarettes) and there are risks to others who share space with them (for example their children). Such information can be used to encourage behavioural change within smoking individuals.

General health effects

The US Surgeon General report, ‘The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress,’ (2014) states that ‘evidence is incontrovertible: inhaling combustion compounds in [tobacco] smoke is deadly,’ and that ‘cigarettes are a defective product – unreasonably dangerous, killing half its long-term users and addictive by design.

Whilst the 2014 report focuses on the particularly dangerous nature of smoking tobacco, it has been documented by the Surgeon General that ‘no tobacco product is safe,’ which includes smokeless tobaccos (US Surgeon General 2004).

Smoking most commonly causes causes lung cancer, with 90% of diagnoses being in smokers (Cancer Research UK 2010) and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), with 80% of cases being diagnosed in smokers (NCGC 2010). Passive smoking also has been shown to increase diagnoses of Pneumonia and Tuberculosis, as well as asthma in young people (WHO 2014, HPACI 2010, Cabana 2005). Smoking has also been implicated in the following diseases (ACSH 2003):

Heart & Circulation

Angina, Buerger’s Disease (severe circulatory disease), Peripheral vascular disease.


COPD, Asthma, Common cold, Chronic rhinitis (inflammation of nose), Influenza, Tuberculosis.

Stomach/Digestive System

Colon polyps, Crohn’s disease (chronic inflamed bowel), Duodenal ulcer, Stomach ulcer.

Ligaments, muscle & bone

Ligament, tendon and muscle injuries, Neck and back pain, Osteoporosis (in both sexes), Rheumatoid arthritis (in heavy smokers).


Cataract, Macular degeneration, Nystagmus (abnormal eye movements), Optic neuropathy (loss of vision), Ocular histoplasmosis (fungal eye infection), Tobacco Amblyopia (loss of vision), Diabetic retinopathy, Optic neuritis.


Psoriasis, Skin wrinkling.

Reproductive Functions

Female fertility (30% lower), Menopause (onset 1.74 years earlier on average), Male fertility (Impotence, Reduced sperm count and motility, sperm less able to penetrate the ovum, increased shape abnormalities).


Periodontal disease, nicotinic stomatitis, oral candidiasis, delayed would healing, smokers melanosis, failure of dental implants.


Depression, Hearing loss, Multiple sclerosis, Dementia, Type 2 Diabetes.

Did you Know

More than 17,000 children under the age of five are admitted to hospital in the UK every year because of the effects of passive smoking.


Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body:

  • Lung
  • Oesophagus
  • Larynx
  • Lip and Oral Cavity
  • Kidney
  • Bladder
  • Larynx
  • Liver


  • Cervix
  • Pancreas
  • Stomach
  • Liver
Bibliography & Further Reading

Besaratinia A, Pfeifer GP. Second-hand smoke and human lung cancer. The lancet oncology. 2008 Jul 31;9(7):657-66.

Cabana M. Birk N. Slish K, et al. Exposure to tobacco smoke and chronic asthma symptoms. Pediatric Asthma Allergy and Immunology 2005 Vol 18. No 4, pp. 180-188

Cancer Research UK. Cancer Stats Key Facts: Lung Cancer and Smoking. November 2010.

Cigarettes: What the warning label doesn’t tell you. American Council on Science and Health, 2003.

Cummings KM, Hyland A, Giovino GA, Hastrup JL, Bauer JE, Bansal MA. Are smokers adequately informed about the health risks of smoking and medicinal nicotine?. Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2004 Dec 1;6(Suppl 3):S333-40.

Gandini S, Botteri E, Iodice S, Boniol M, Lowenfels AB, Maisonneuve P, Boyle P. Tobacco smoking and cancer: a meta‐ analysis. Int J Cancer 2008; 122: 155−164.

Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections. Tuberculosis in the UK: Report on tuberculosis surveillance in the UK 2010. View document

Jones MM. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Management of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in adults in primary and secondary care. 2010

Kinane DF, Chestnutt IG. Smoking and periodontal disease. Critical Reviews in Oral Biology & Medicine. 2000 Jul;11(3):356-65.

US Department of Health and Human Services. The health consequences of smoking—50 years of progress: a report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. 2014;17.

US Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004.

WHO Media Centre (2014). Factsheet N331: Pneumonia. World Health Organization website. View factsheet