What are the health risks of smoking?

Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK.

Every year around 100,000 people in the UK die from smoking, with many more living with debilitating smoking-related illnesses.

Smoking increases your risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions. Some may be fatal and others can cause irreversible long-term damage to your health.

You can become ill:

  • if you smoke yourself
  • through other people's smoke (passive smoking)

Smoking health risks

Smoking causes about 90% of lung cancers. It also causes cancer in many other parts of the body, including the:

  • mouth
  • lips
  • throat
  • voice box (larynx)
  • oesophagus (the tube between your mouth and stomach)
  • bladder
  • kidney
  • liver
  • stomach
  • pancreas

Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing your risk of developing conditions such as:

Smoking also damages your lungs, leading to conditions such as:

Smoking can also worsen or prolong the symptoms of respiratory conditions such as asthma, or respiratory tract infections such as the common cold.

In men, smoking can cause impotence because it limits the blood supply to the penis. It can also reduce the fertility of both men and women.

Health risks of passive smoking

Secondhand smoke comes from the tip of a lit cigarette and the smoke that the smoker breathes out.

Breathing in secondhand smoke  also known as passive smoking – increases your risk of getting the same health conditions as smokers. For example, breathing in secondhand smoke increases a non-smoker's risk of developing lung cancer by about a quarter.

Babies and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke. A child who is exposed to passive smoke is at increased risk of developing chest infections, meningitis, a persistent cough and, if they have asthma, their symptoms will get worse. They're also at increased risk of cot death and an ear infection called glue ear.

Read more about passive smoking.

Health risks of smoking during pregnancy

If you smoke when you're pregnant, you put your unborn baby's health at risk, as well as your own. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of complications such as:

Read more in Why should I stop smoking if I'm pregnant?

Getting help

Your GP can give you information and advice on quitting smoking. You can also call:

Read the answers to more questions about stopping smoking

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 28/11/2015

Next review due: 28/11/2017