Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

Smokers Cough Smoking

About 400,000 people die from tobacco use in America each year. About $50 billion are spent on the care for people who are ill from tobacco use. Cigarette smoking is the number one avoidable cause of death in the United States today.

What makes up cigarette smoke?
Cigarette smoke is a complex mixture of chemicals. The particles of smoke in the air from smoking are called tar particles. Tar is the substance that causes cancer. It causes your lungs to turn black. Nicotine is a poison in tobacco. It acts as a drug and works to excite the brain and nerves. Nicotine is very addictive.

Do low tar cigarettes help?
The amount of tar and nicotine in the average cigarette has been decreasing. The risk of lung cancer can be lower in low tar and nicotine brands. However, smokers compensate by smoking more cigarettes or inhaling deeply. Unfortunately, there has been no decrease in the diseases caused by smoking.

What other things increase the risk from smoking?
How you smoke, and other diseases can increase your risk of disease from smoking. Some of these include:

  • Higher number of cigarettes smoked per day
  • Taking deeper breaths while smoking
  • Smoking for a longer time
  • When you started smoking: The younger the age, the greater the risk. This is probably because the growing heart and lungs are more sensitive to smoke in a child.
  • Other health problems:

Does smoking affect your risk for disease?
Yes. Smoking and the other health problems listed above cause the hardening of your arteries. Poor circulation or hardening of the arteries can cause the following problems:

Smoking adds to the risk of each of these diseases. In general, cigarette smokers have twice the risk of a heart attack than nonsmokers. Your risk of dying from poor circulation, stroke, and aortic aneurysm are also much higher if you smoke. Because smoking is so common, it is the largest avoidable cause of heart disease in the US.

RisksVascular Disease per 1,000 People
No risk factors23
High Cholesterol only54
High blood pressure only54
Smoking only54
Smoking + any one of the above103
Cholesterol + high blood pressure92
All three risk factors present189

About 9 out of 10 people with poor circulation (blockage of the arteries in the limbs) smoke. If you do not stop smoking, you have a much higher risk of amputation of a toe, foot, or leg.

Does smoking increase your risk of lung cancer?
You are 10 times more likely to have lung cancer than nonsmokers if you smoke 1 pack of cigarettes per day. You are 25 times more likely to have lung cancer if you smoke 2 or more packs per day. Your risk is even higher if you breathe deeply and start smoking at an early age.

Your risk can be higher if you breathe secondary smoke. This is the smoke in the air from someone who is smoking. Non-smoking women who live with a smoking spouse have one and a half times the risk of lung cancer than women who do not smoke.

Lung cancer is the number one cause of death due to cancer in men and women. It is estimated that smoking causes the death of 85 out of every 100 people who die from lung cancer. You can also look at this way: 85 out of every 100 people who die from lung cancer could have been saved if they never starting smoking in the first place.

Does smoking increase the risk of any other cancers?
You are 10 times more likely to suffer from throat cancer if you smoke. Also, smokers are 5 times more likely to develop cancer of the mouth and esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). Your risk of these cancers is even higher if you drink alcohol. Cigarette smoking also increases your risk for these cancers:
  • Bladder
  • Cervix (opening to the womb or uterus)
  • Kidney
  • Pancreas
  • Stomach

Is this risk passed to your children?
Fathers who smoke may damage their sperm. This damage can increase the risk of cancer in your children. The more you smoke, the higher the risk.

Does smoking cause lung disease?
Lung disease from smoking is called emphysema or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). This is the most well known problem from smoking. COPD begins slowly with a chronic cough, increased phlegm, and swelling of the small air tubes in the lungs (bronchitis). Over time, the small air tubes do not let air pass into the lungs well. This makes breathing more difficult. After 15 to 20 years of smoking, you have these changes in the lungs. You will probably have long standing shortness of breath. Also, you will not be able to exercise because your lungs cannot supply enough oxygen to the body.

How do you know if you have COPD?
You should talk to your doctor. He/she will test your breathing with a machine. This is a special test that measures how easily air flows into and out of the lungs. It will tell you if your lungs are damaged from the smoking.

You may need medicine to help your lungs work better. Some of the lung damage can be reversed if you completely stop smoking. Your health will improve if you stop smoking even if you have a bad case of COPD.

Does smoking cause stomach ulcers?
Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of stomach ulcers and slower healing of these ulcers. Smoking may also lead to acid reflux, a condition that causes heartburn.

What are the risks of smoking in women?
Women also have an increased risk for problems during pregnancy if they smoke during the pregnancy. The risk of death in the newborn baby is higher in women who smoke. In general, infants who are born to smoking mothers are smaller than normal babies.

Those women who smoke and take birth control pills increase their risk of having health problems. Women who smoke and take birth control are:
  • 20 times more likely to have bleeding within the brain
  • 30 times more likely to suffer a heart attack
  • At risk for blood clots

If you are taking birth control pills, you absolutely should not smoke.

What are the risks of smoking in men?
Men, who smoke, have lower sex drives than men who do not smoke. The sperm do not work well in men who smoke. For this reason, the cheapest way to improve male infertility problems may be to quit smoking.

Is pipe and cigar smoking safer?
Pipe and cigar smokers (who have never smoked cigarettes) may have a lower risk of heart disease and lung cancer than cigarette smokers. They have the same risks of mouth, tongue, and larynx cancers. These differences may be because pipe and cigar smokers do not inhale deeply. However, most cigarette smokers who switch to a pipe or cigar still inhale deeply. These smokers have the same or greater risks as cigarette smokers.

Is oral snuff safe?
The use of oral snuff has been popular in young males. Unfortunately, smokeless tobacco use greatly increases your risk for cancers of the cheek and gum. In fact, these cancers in the U.S. are almost always due to tobacco use, whether from smoking or chewing. It also causes nicotine addiction.

Is secondary smoke bad?
Secondary smoke (someone else's smoke) has the same toxins as inhaled cigarette smoke. In general, your health risk from secondary smoke is smaller than when you smoke yourself. However, secondary smoke can cause lung cancer. Each year, 500 to 5,000 lung cancers are the result of secondary smoke.

How does smoking affect children?
Children of parents who smoke are at risk for health problems. They inhale secondary smoke from their parents. These children under 2 years of age suffer 300,000 cases of bronchitis and pneumonia each year. Infants are greatly affected by the secondary smoke. A child exposed to smoke has a greater risk of ear infection and asthma.

Continue to Smokers Cough Types

Last Updated: Nov 8, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Smokers Cough References
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  2. Doherty DE, Briggs DD Jr. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: epidemiology, pathogenesis, disease course, and prognosis. Clin Cornerstone. 2004;Suppl 2:S5-16. [15500179]
  3. Ebell MH. Systemic corticosteroids for acute exacerbations of COPD. Am Fam Physician. 2005 Aug 1;72(3):437-8. [16100857]
  4. Kerstjens H, Postma D, Ten Hacken N. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Clin Evid. 2004 Jun;(11):2003-30. [15652094]
  5. Weder MM, Donohue JF. Role of bronchodilators in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2005 Apr;26(2):221-34. [16088439]
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