Smoking and physical health

Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including over 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 and disabling conditions. 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.

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.

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.

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Quit Methods

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Quit Apps

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

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Real Quitting Experiences

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

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Free Quit Support

Talk to the Quitline

Quitline is a confidential advice and information service for people who want to quit smoking. For the cost of a local call (except mobile phones), a trained advisor can help you to plan and develop strategies to quit smoking and stay stopped. You can also use webchat during opening hours.

My QuitBuddy App

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

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Quit for You - Quit for Two App

The Quit for You - Quit for Two App provides support and encouragement to help you give up smoking if you are currently or are planning to become pregnant.