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 die from smoking, with many more deaths caused by 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, or secondhand smoke)

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:

  • chronic bronchitis (infection of the main airways in the lungs)
  • emphysema (damage to the small airways in the lungs)
  • pneumonia (inflammation in the lungs)

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 affect the fertility of both men and women, making it difficult for you to have children.

Secondhand smoke

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

People who breathe in secondhand smoke are at risk of getting the same health conditions as smokers, particularly lung cancer and heart disease. For example, breathing in secondhand smoke increases a non-smoker's risk of developing lung cancer or heart disease by about 25%.

Babies and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke. A child who is exposed to smoke is at increased risk of developing respiratory infections, a chronic cough and, if they have asthma, their symptoms will get worse. They're also at increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and glue ear.

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 about Why should I stop smoking if I'm pregnant?

Getting help

Your GP will be able to give you information and advice about quitting smoking. You can also call:

  • the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044
  • the NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline on 0800 169 9 169

Read the answers to more questions about stopping smoking

Further information:

Get support quitting

NHS Smokefree offers different services and support to help you stop smoking.

Media last reviewed: 18/09/2011

Next review due: 18/09/2013

Page last reviewed: 28/11/2013

Next review due: 27/11/2015