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World No Tobacco Day 2022 - How does Smoking affect the lungs?

Figure 1 – Moores clinical oriented anatomy

As of 2020, 13.5% of the adult population smoke cigarettes . This roughly equates to 5.5 million people with a further 3.3 million people smoking e-cigarettes or vapes. World No-Tobacco Day lands on the 31st of May 2022, this is to highlight the affects of smoking on the body and to help encourage people to quit.

Smoking is a leading cause of illness and death in the UK. Roughly 78,000 people die in the UK each year from a smoking related illness with many more living with such related illnesses.

As cigarette smoke is inhaled it can cause cancer of the mouth, throat, and many other internal organs. Smoking is responsible for 70% of all lung cancer diagnoses. Smoking can also lead to the development of other cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke. Smoking affects the vasculature of the body and can damage the arteries that supply blood to the brain leading to cerebrovascular disease.

There are over 7000 chemicals released when a cigarette is ignited. Many of these are poisonous and carcinogenic, cancerous.

Figure 2 - Chemicals in Cigarette (airtopia)

One of the components of a cigarette is tar. This is a sticky brown substance that collects in the lungs, affecting lung function. What makes smoking so addictive is nicotine, it is a very addictive drug. Some of the chemical’s present can damage our DNA. DNA is very important for managing the cells of our bodies, and if the DNA is damaged, it can stop protecting our cells from cancer. Leading to cancer cells developing and causing a lot of damage.

A smoker’s lung can be black or grey in colour due to discolouration caused by the tar. A healthy lung should be pinky red. The lungs can also become inflamed as a response to the poisonous substances in cigarettes.

The diaphragm is the primary muscle of respiration. It is a dome shaped muscle located underneath the lung. It contracts during breathing. Smoking causes the diaphragm to become smaller due to muscle atrophy. This thins this very important muscle, affecting a person’s ability to breathe.

Cilia are hair like projections that line the bronchus. Cilia function to remove debris from the airways. Within the cilia are goblet cells which secrete mucus to help protect the lining of the bronchus and prevent dangerous microorganisms from entering the lungs. Cigarette smoking can kill the cilia. A smoker’s cough is developed when the cilia are affected as an attempt to remove excess mucus from the lungs.

Elastin is a protein that allows for the lungs to expand and contract during breathing. Cigarette smoke damages the elastin, this reduces the ability of the lungs to contract and expand. The alveoli, the air sacs, are also elastic. This allows for them to contract and expand during breathing and gas exchange. Smoking affects the elasticity of the alveoli, causing them to lose their elasticity and diminishing their function. This makes gas exchange a more difficult process as it makes it more difficult for the body to breathe in oxygen and expire carbon dioxide.

Smoking can lead to the development of many different diseases such as Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This involves bronchitis and emphysema. Emphysema is characterised by shortness of breath. The alveoli are damaged, reducing the lung’s ability to perform gas exchange. Chronic bronchitis is long term inflammation of the bronchi which prevents oxygen reaching the alveoli. Smoking can also worsen the symptoms of Asthma, respiratory tract infections as well as worsening the effects of a cold.

By quitting smoking, you are helping your body immensely. Your lungs slowly begin to repair and regenerate themselves. Speak to your doctor today so they can help you quit for good!


Figure 1 – moores clinically oriented anatomy text book (2017)

Tantisuwat, A., & Thaveeratitham, P. (2014). Effects of smoking on chest expansion, lung function, and respiratory muscle strength of youths. Journal of physical therapy science, 26(2), 167–170.

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