Smoking and physical health

Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including at least 69 chemicals known to cause cancer (carcinogens). When you breathe in cigarette smoke, these chemicals enter your lungs and spread through your body. Many smokers are addicted to nicotine, one of the main chemicals in tobacco smoke.

Nobody expects to develop a serious smoking-related illness, but the truth is, no smoker is safe. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and can cause many serious conditions that impact on your quality of life. Tobacco smoke can also impair reproductive fertility and if you’re pregnant it can affect your baby’s development.

Smoking and cancer

Tobacco smoking is the most common cause of cancer and is responsible for 1 in every 5 cancer deaths. If you smoke, you increase your risk of at least 16 different types of cancer including lung, mouth (oral cavity), throat (pharynx), oesophagus, stomach, bowel, liver, pancreas, nasal cavity and sinuses, voice box (larynx), cervix, ovary, bladder, kidney, ureter and bone marrow (myeloid leukaemia).

Quitting is one way to reduce your risk of developing cancer. If you are diagnosed with cancer, quitting can reduce side effects from chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, decrease the risk of secondary cancers and improve your recovery and survival, compared to people who continue to smoke.

Cigarettes positioned to create the shape of a body. Arrows pointing to the following" Nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses, oral cavity, pharynx, Larynx (voice box), lungs, liver, kidney, stomach, pancreas, ureter, ovary, bladder, cervix, bowel, Myeloid leukemia
Cartoon image of a heart being stabbed with a knife shaped like a cigarette and words stating "3x risk of heart attack"

Smoking and cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes heart, stroke and blood vessel diseases. When you smoke, the chemicals in tobacco smoke are absorbed into the bloodstream, damaging blood vessels and leading to a build-up of cholesterol and other fatty deposits on artery walls. This narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to move around your body and reducing the amount of oxygen in your blood.

Compared to people who have never smoked, smoking can:

  • At least double your risk of a heart attack, stroke and heart failure;
  • almost triple your risk of a fatal heart attack; and
  • increase your risk of peripheral arterial disease by five-times, which can lead to complications like gangrene.

Over one-third of CVD deaths before the age of 65 are caused by smoking. The good news is that quitting at any age will benefit your cardiovascular system – but the earlier the better.

Smoking and lung disease

As tobacco smoke passes through your airways and lungs, your respiratory system is exposed to high levels of the toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke. Exposure to these chemicals can aggravate asthma, impair the lungs' ability to fight infections and increases your risk of developing bronchitis, influenza and pneumonia. Tobacco smoking is also the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition where lung tissue is damaged over time and mucus builds-up in the airways. This leads to a painful cough and agonising breathing difficulties.

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two types of COPD that are most commonly caused by smoking.  Whether you're a pack a day smoker or just have one every now and again, every cigarette increases your risk. Quitting is always the best action you can take to slow the progression of COPD.

Cartoon image of lung. Left side is heathy and light, and right side is dark and unhealthy

Other ways smoking can harm your body

There is no such thing as a safe cigarette or a safe level of smoking, as even younger smokers can experience serious health problems. To reduce your risk, the best option is to quit smoking. You’ll feel the health benefits almost straight away.

Click on the buttons below to see how smoking affects a smoker's body.

Find out more about the benefits of quitting.
  • Cancers

  • Other Health Effects

Smoking also negatively impacts your mental health

It’s a common belief that smoking reduces feelings of stress, anxiety and depression but it’s actually the opposite. Those who smoke are twice as likely to experience these feelings.

Find out more about how smoking impacts your mental health
Two men sitting next to each other both wearing denim shirts. Man on left is looking over at man to the right, who is wearing a beanie and has a beard.

Looking for other information?

chalk writing on pavement saying 'you got this'
Quit Methods

There are so many different ways to quit, find the one that will work for you.

Learn more about quit methods

Person scrolling through their phone
Quit Apps

Free apps such as My QuitBuddy can be a fun and practical way to quit and stay smoke-free.

Learn more about quit apps

A group of friends gathered around a campfire and drinking a hot drink
Real Quitting Experiences

There are more ex-smokers today than there are smokers. Find out how they did it by reading their stories.

Read more quitting experiences

Stack of newspapers
Latest News

We publish blogs on many different tobacco-related topics, you're sure to learn something new.

Read more latest news

Free Quit Support

Talk to the Quitline

The Quitline is a confidential telephone advice and information service for people who want to quit smoking.

My QuitBuddy App

The My QuitBuddy App tracks your quitting progress, such as days smoke-free, cigarettes avoided, health gained and dollars saved.

Google Play ButtonApp Store Button
Proven Tips To Quit

Some people think quitting is about willpower, but to quit successfully means being prepared, and understanding your smoking triggers.

Find tips on quitting