Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK.
Every year around 76,000 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
- if people around you smoke (passive smoking)
Smoking health risks
Smoking causes around 7 out of every 10 cases of lung cancer (70%).
It also causes cancer in many other parts of the body, including the:
- voice box (larynx)
- oesophagus (the tube between your mouth and stomach)
Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing your risk of developing conditions such as:
- coronary heart disease
- heart attack
- peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels)
- cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to your brain)
Smoking also damages your lungs, leading to conditions such as:
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which incorporates bronchitis and emphysema
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 erectile dysfunction (impotence) because it limits the blood supply to the penis.
It can also reduce the fertility of both men and women.
Smoking can make it harder to recover from surgery.
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, if you have never smoked but you have a spouse who smokes, your risk of developing lung cancer increases by about a quarter.
Babies and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of secondhand smoke.
A child who's 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 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), sometimes called 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:
- premature (early) birth
- a low birth weight baby
Read more about stopping smoking in pregnancy.
Your GP can give you information and advice on quitting smoking.
You can visit the NHS Smokefree website to download the free NHS Quit Smoking app, get more information, or call the helpline on 0300 123 1044.
Page last reviewed: 16 September 2022
Next review due: 16 September 2025