Tobacco and your health

Every year about 15,000 Australians die from diseases caused by smoking. One in two lifetime smokers will die from their addiction. About half of these deaths occur in middle age.

Smoking is the major cause of ill health in the Northern Territory (NT).

Smoking tobacco doesn't just cause major harm to your health. It harms the people around you through second-hand smoke. 

Poisons in cigarettes 

Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals. As well as tar and nicotine, there is also the gas carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust fumes), ammonia (found in floor cleaner) and arsenic (found in rat poison).

Effects on the body of smoking tobacco

Inhaling tobacco smoke causes damage to many of the body's organs and systems.

Respiratory system

The effects of tobacco smoke on the respiratory system include:

  • irritation of the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box)
  • reduced lung function and breathlessness due to swelling and narrowing of the lung airways and excess mucus in the lung passages
  • impairment of the lungs' clearance system, leading to the build-up of poisonous substances, which results in lung irritation and damage
  • increased risk of lung infection and symptoms such as coughing and wheezing
  • permanent damage to the air sacs of the lungs.

Circulatory system

The effects of tobacco smoke on the circulatory system include:

  • raised blood pressure and heart rate
  • constriction (tightening) of blood vessels in the skin, resulting in a drop in skin temperature
  • less oxygen carried by the blood during exercise
  • 'stickier' blood, which is more prone to clotting
  • damage to the lining of the arteries, which is thought to be a contributing factor to atherosclerosis - the build-up of fatty deposits on the artery walls
  • reduced blood flow to fingers and toes
  • increased risk of stroke and heart attack due to blockages of the blood supply.

Immune system

The effects of tobacco smoke on the immune system include:

  • greater susceptibility to infections such as pneumonia and influenza
  • more severe and longer-lasting illnesses
  • lower levels of protective antioxidants, such as vitamin C, in the blood.

Bones and muscles

The effects of tobacco smoke on the musculoskeletal system include:

  • tightening of certain muscles
  • reduced bone density.

Men

The effects of tobacco smoke on the male body include an increased risk of:

  • lower sperm count
  • higher percentage of deformed sperm
  • genetic damage to sperm
  • impotence, which may be due to the effects of smoking on blood flow and damage to the blood vessels of the penis.

Women

The effects of tobacco smoke on the female body include:

  • reduced fertility, menstrual cycle irregularities or absence of menstruation
  • menopause reached one or two years earlier
  • increased risk of cervical cancer
  • greatly increased risk of stroke and heart attack if the smoker is aged over 35 years and taking the oral contraceptive pill.

Babies

Smoking by a mother or father of an unborn baby and child in the first year of its life can have damaging effects on your child.

For more information read smoking, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Other effects

Other effects of smoking on the body include:

  • irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines
  • increased risk of painful ulcers along the digestive tract
  • reduced ability to smell and taste
  • premature wrinkling of the skin
  • higher risk of blindness
  • gum disease - periodontitis.

Diseases caused by long-term smoking

A lifetime smoker is at high risk of developing a range of potentially lethal diseases including:

  • cancer of the lung, mouth, nose, larynx, tongue, nasal sinus, oesophagus, throat, pancreas, bone marrow (myeloid leukaemia), kidney, cervix, ovary, ureter, liver, bladder, bowel and stomach
  • lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes obstructive bronchiolitis and emphysema
  • coronary artery disease, heart disease, heart attack and stroke
  • ulcers of the digestive system
  • osteoporosis and hip fracture
  • poor blood circulation in feet and hands, which can lead to pain and, in severe cases, gangrene and amputation.

All cigarettes are toxic

It doesn’t help if you smoke weaker tasting cigarettes such as those labelled ‘fine’, ‘smooth’ or ‘refined’. 

These cigarettes have holes in the filter that let in air to dilute the smoke, but you still end up inhaling the same amount of chemicals as you would from stronger tasting cigarettes. So you do the same amount of damage.

Read more about the help available if you want to quit smoking.

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Last updated: 27 June 2017