Health effects of smoking

Click here for the special health risks of cigar smoking  Cigar cropped top-horixontal.jpg


The cold hard facts

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    Smoking causes more disease and illness in Australia than any other single preventable cause
  • 15,500 Australians die each year from smoking
  • Smokers will lose 10 years of life on average
  • Up to 2 in 3 long-term smokers is killed by smoking
  • 12% of all deaths in Australia are due to smoking
  • 30% of all deaths from cancer are due to smoking
  • The smoker loses an average of 3 months of life for each year quitting smoking is delayed after age 35



Causes of death

The main causes of death in Australia from smoking (with the percentage of smoking deaths in brackets)

  1. Lung cancer (41%)
  2. COPD – chronic bronchitis or emphysema (27%)
  3. Heart attack (13%)
  4. Stroke (4%)
  5. Oesophageal cancer (4%)


Lung cancer


Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in Australia in both men and women. Smoking causes 90% of lung cancer in men, 65% in women.

Male smokers have a 21x greater risk on average compared to non-smokers, women have a 12.5 times greater risk. The risk increases with the number of years of smoking and the daily cigarette intake.

The average age of lung cancer is 71 years for men, 70 years for women. Only 12% of lung cancer sufferers survive 5 years.

Click here for more about lung cancer.

Annual lung scans recommended for some current and former smokers


Other cancers


Smoking is known to cause 12 other cancers;

  • Mouth and throat
  • Larynx (voicebox)
  • Oesophagus
  • Acute myeloid leukaemia
  • Stomach
  • Pancreas
  • Kidney
  • Cervix
  • Bladder
  • Liver
  • Colon
  • Ovary

 and probably breast cancer

Click here to download a detailed fact sheet about smoking and cancer.



About 1 in 4 smokers develop COPD (chronic bronchitis and emphysema) which causes breathlessness, cough and sputum. Breathing gradually deteriorates over time, there are repeated chest infections, hospital admissions and eventually oxygen is required. Click here for more about COPD.


Heart attack

Smoking triples the risk of having a heart attack. Smoking increases blood clotting and narrows the arteries around the heart (atherosclerosis). The risk of a sudden death is increased by 2-3x that of a non-smoker. After a coronary stent or bypass, the risk of a further blockage is greatly increased.



Smokers are twice as likely to have a stroke as non-smokers. A stroke occurs when an artery to the brain becomes blocked or bleeds and part of the brain dies, resulting in paralysis, difficulty speaking, loss of mental functions or death. The risk of stroke increases the heavier and longer you smoke and especially if you are on the contraceptive pill.



Peripheral arterial disease

The risk of blockage in the arteries is increased by about three times in smokers, especially in the legs and feet. This can lead to pain, gangrene and amputation. Smokers develop PAD 10 years earlier than non-smokers.


Aortic aneurysm

An aortic aneurysm is a weakening of the wall of the aorta, the main artery of the body. The wall can stretch and eventually burst and this is frequently fatal. Quitting smoking approximately halves the risk of an aortic aneurysm.



People with asthma who smoke have worse asthma control, poorer response to treatment and accelerated decline in lung function.


Other respiratory disease

Smokers have higher rates of pneumonia, bronchitis, influenza, common cold, influenza and chicken pox, sleep apnoea and snoring.


Erectile Dysfunction


Smoking reduces the blood flow to the penis and is a major cause of erectile dysfunction (impotence). Even passive smoking increases the risk. Smoking also reduces the sperm count. Click here for more about ED.



Smoking causes peptic ulcer (duodenal and gastric), gastro-oesophageal reflux and a 76% increased risk of Crohn’s disease. 


Mouth disease

Smoking causes cancer of the mouth, gingivitis (gum inflammation), periodontitis (inflamed gums and deeper tissues) and tooth staining. Click here for more.


Skin disease

Smoking causes increased wrinkling, and a pale, yellowish complexion. One study found that smokers appeared up to 4.7 years older than non-smokers. Click here for more about 'Smoker's face'. Smokers are also 80% more likely to develop psoriasis, a chronic disfiguring skin disease which affects about 3% of the population.


Eye disease

Smoking increases the risk of macular degeneration (the leading cause of blindness in Australia) by 2-3 times and the condition develops 10 years earlier in smokers. It also causes a 40% increased risk of cataracts (clouding of the lens) and is an important cause of thyroid eye disease (bulging eyes).

Macular-degeneration.jpg Cataract.jpgGraves-ophthmalopathy.jpg

Figure L-R: Age-related macular degeneration; Cataract; Thyroid eye disease.


Other diseases

Smoking causes an increased risk of;

  • Complications of surgery
  • Osteoporosis
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Suicide
  • Alzheimer's Disease (dementia)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis and SLE (systemic lupus erythematosis)
  • Fire-related injuries



Reports of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2004, 2006, 2010, 2014

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Lung cancer in Australia: an overview 2011

International Agency for Resarch on Cancer. Tobacco smoking. IARC Monograph 100E, 2010

Begg S, Vos T et al. 2007. The burden of disease and injury in Australia 2003. PHE 82. Canberra: AIHW

Doll R, Peto R et al. Mortality in relation to smoking, 50 years' observations on male British doctors. British Medical Journal 2004



Last Modified: 20-06-2017