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Health risks of smoking

Quitting smoking offers immediate and long-term benefits. Quitting reduces the risk of developing smoking-related diseases and improves your health in multiple ways.

Tobacco smoke is made up of thousands of chemicals and many of them are very harmful. Around 70 of them cause cancer. Download What’s in Cigarettes to read more about these chemicals.

Poisons in tobacco smoke include:

  • Carbon monoxide
    • Fatal in large doses, this poisonous gas is also found in car exhaust fumes. It takes the place of oxygen in your blood, starving your lungs, heart, and other organs of the oxygen they need to function properly.
  • Tar
    • This sticky brown substance coats your lungs like soot in a chimney. Tar and smoke irritate your lungs, increasing the amount of mucus in your chest and restricting your breathing.

Long-term smokers are at a higher risk of developing a range of potentially deadly diseases including:

  • Cancer of the lungs, mouth, nose, throat, oesophagus, pancreas, kidney, liver, bladder, bowel, ovary, cervix, bone marrow, and stomach.
  • Lung diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
  • Heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
  • Poor blood circulation in feet and hands, which can lead to pain and, in severe cases, gangrene and amputation.             


How does smoking affect your body?

Select a body part to find out what effect smoking has.

Remember that your body begins to repair itself as soon as you quit smoking, no matter what your age.


Smokers appear to develop face wrinkles earlier than nonsmokers.

Smoking reduces blood flow to the skin and may damage tissues (collagen and elastin) that help keep skin looking young.

Smoking is also linked to a range of skin problems, such as psoriasis and hidradentis suppurtativa (inflammation of sweat glans in the groin and under arm regions, producing painful boils or abscesses).


Smokers are more likely to suffer hearing loss than nonsmokers, including hearing loss due to loud noises.


Children can be accidently burnt by other people's cigarettes, lighters and lighter fluid.

Approximately one in four fire deaths occur in fires started by cigarettes.


30% of all strokes in individuals under 65 years of age are caused by smoking.

Cigarette smoking is a cause of stroke - damage to the brain due to problems with blood flow or the escape of blood into the brain tissue.

After you quit, your risk of stroke decreases steadily. After fifteen years your risk is close to that of someone who has never smoked.

Heart and Blood

30% of heart disease in those under 65 years of age is caused by smoking

Smokers have two to three times the risk of suffering sudden cardiac death than nonsmokers.

Smoking temporarily raises heart rate and blood pressure, while reducing the ability of blood to carry oxygen. Smoking makes the walls of the blood vessels sticky, causing a build up of dangerous fatty deposits.


80% of cases of lung cancer are due to smoking.

Approximately one fifth of all cancer deaths in Australia can be attributed to smoking.

Smoking also causes cancer of the tongue, mouth, throat, nose, voice box, oesophagus, pancreas, stomach, liver, kidney, bladder, ureter, bowel, ovary, cervix and bone marrow (myeloid leukemia).


Smoking is among the risk factors for back pain for both adolescents and adults.

Stomach and gut

Smoking causes cancer of the stomach, bowel, and other organs involved in digesting food.

After quitting, your risk of cancer of the stomach, pancreas, and oesophagus goes down compared to a continuing smoker, and continues to decrease the longer you stay stopped.

Smoking causes peptic ulcer disease in people who also are infected with H. pylori, a common bacterial infection. It increases the risk of developing Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel condition.

Smoking has a number of damaging effects on your stomach and gut, such as increasing acidity and reflux, which stop shortly after you quit smoking.


Smoking causes problems with getting or maintaining an erection.

This may be due to the effects of smoking on blood flow and damage to the blood vessels of the penis. The earlier men quit smoking, the greater their chances of preventing or recovering from this problem.

Muscles & Bones

Carbon monoxide replaces some of the oxygen in your blood, and makes it harder for oxygen to transfer into muscle cells.

As there is less oxygen available for your muscles, they tire more quickly. After you quit for 24 hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood drops dramatically.

Smoking gradually decreases your bone density in your middle and later years. This leads to low bone density, especially for older women. Smoking increases the risk of hip fractures in both men and women.


Doctors strongly recommend stopping smoking before surgery.

If you smoke, you will have a much higher risk of serious complications during and after surgery. The earlier you quit, the greater your chances of an easy recovery. Quitting completely is the only way to stop and reverse the damage done by cigarettes.


80% of cases of lung cancer are due to smoking

Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer caused by smoking.

The earlier you quit, the smaller your risk of dying from lung cancer. For example, quitting at 50 years old more than halves your risk over 25 years compared to continued smoking. Cigarette smoke contains many chemicals that interfere with the body's method of filtering air and cleaning out the lungs.


If you are a breastfeeding mother and you smoke it is not ideal, but better than not breastfeeding.

Some of the nicotine and other poisons in cigarettes are passed from a mother who smokes, to the baby, through breast milk. However, breast milk provides all the baby's food-needs for the first six months of its life and helps protects the baby against infection.

If you are having trouble quitting try not to smoke just before or during feeds - if you can, go outdoors to smoke.


The tar in cigarette smoke collects on the fingers and fingernails, staining them yellowish-brown.

Smoking can damage blood vessel walls, making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood to the hands and feet. Over time, this can lead to peripheral vascular disease (PVD). In serious cases, this may result in severe pain, and can also lead to gangrene and amputation.

Quitting reduces your risk of developing PVD, compared to a continuing smoker. Quitting slows down the worsening of PVD in those who have the disease: they live longer, have less pain and are more likely to avoid amputation.


Smoking is a cause of type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes.

Smoking can bring on illness associated with diabetes earlier, causing disability and death. Smokers with diabetes have a greater risk of heart disease, stroke and disease of the blood vessels than nonsmokers with diabetes. Smokers with type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes may also have higher risk for kidney disease and nerve damage.

People with type 1 diabetes who smoke tend to have less control over their blood-sugar levels and more are likely to suffer from levels that are too high or too low.

If you have diabetes and smoke, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do to manage your diabetes and stay healthier for longer.

Women's health

Women who smoke face extra problems.

This includes:

  • increased risk of heart attack if you smoke and take the pill - this risk increases significantly as you get older
  • difficulty becoming pregnant
  • missed periods and more painful periods
  • increases risk of cancer of the cervix and ovary
  • loss of bone density in older women, and increased risk of hip fractures
  • early menopause

Quitting stops further damage caused by smoking and many of these problems appear to reverse.


Smoking can damage blood vessel walls, making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood to the hands and feet.

Over time, this can lead to peripheral vascular disease (PVD). PVD most commonly occurs in the legs and feet, but it can also develop in the arms and hands.

In serious cases, this may result in severe pain, especially when exercising. It can also lead to gangrene and amputation.

Quitting reduces your risk of developing PVD, compared to a continuing smoker. Quitting slows down the worsening of PVD in those who have the disease: they live longer, have less pain and are more likely to avoid amputation.


Smoking during pregnancy, and exposing the infant to tobacco smoke in the first year of life, is a cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS or cot death).

Infants exposed to their mother's secondhand smoke after birth have nearly two and a half times the risk of dying from SIDS compared with unexposed infants.

Child's ears

Children of smokers are more likely to contract 'glue ear', which is an infection and swelling of the ear.

'Glue ear' is the most common cause of hearing loss in children, and may lead to speech problems.

Child's lungs

Seondhand smoke is more dangerous for young children than adults because they have smaller and more delicate lungs, which are still developing.

The children of parents who smoke have higher rates of lung or airways infections such as bronchitis, bronchiolitis and pneumonia during their first two years of life, compared to children on nonsmokers.

The best way to protect children from secondhand smoke is to quit smoking. The next best way is by parents ensuring a total ban on smoking inside the home or car.


Nicotine on its own can be a poisonous substance.

During the 1920s and 1930s, when large quantities of nicotine were used in insecticides, poisonings were common.

Despite nicotine poisoning being uncommon these days, a child who accidently eats a cigarette, or cigarette butt, can become sick.


Smoking is a major cause of cancers to the mouth and throat.

Provided cancer is not already present, the risk of mouth and throat cancer rapidly decreases over the first 10 years after stopping smoking. After 20 years your risk of mouth cancer is similar to someone who has never smoked.

Smoking causes dental disease that affects both the gums and bones that support the teeth. Quitting reduces your risk of this disease compared to a continuing smoker.


Smoking causes macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in Australians over 40 years old.

Stopping smoking is the most important way to help prevent this condition.


Smoking causes cancer of the nose, the nasal sinus and cavity behind the nose.

Smoking also affects your ability to smell. Some people may notice that their sense of smell improves soon after they stop smoking. After you quit, your sense of smell recovers slowly over time.


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