Factsheet on Lung Damage

Cigarettes paralyse and can completely destroy the minute hairs, known as cilia, which line smokers' upper airways and protect them against infection (1) Cigarettes impair the lung's ability to absorb oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide.(1)

Cigarettes irritate the lungs so the airways narrow, encouraging phlegm and making it harder to breathe.(1)

Lung Q&A

What does smoking do to my lungs?

It paralyses and can completely destroy cilia, which line your upper airways and protect you against infection. It destroys the alveoli, or air sacs, which absorb oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. It destroys lung tissue making the lungs less able to function. It irritates the lungs which creates phlegm and narrows the airways, making it harder to breathe. It forces carbon monoxide into your blood.(1)

How does that affect me?

It makes you short of breath, it makes you cough, it gives you chronic bronchitis and repeated chest infections, it worsens your asthma and it can give you lung cancer.(1)

That's apart from effects on your heart, fertility, pregnancy and your children.(2)

But most people who smoke don't get lung cancer.

No. Most people die of other things first, often because they smoked.

If I give up, will my lungs improve?

Yes. Cilia that are paralysed but not destroyed can recover. Your asthma will improve. You will have fewer chest infections. The sooner you stop, the better your chances of improved lung function.(2)Top of page

1. The Health Consequences of Smoking: Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease. US Department of Health and Human Services, 1984.
2. The Health Benefits of Smoking Cessation. US Department of Health and Human Services,1990

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