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Health Dangers of Smoking

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Find out the health risks of smoking by exploring the interactive body

What are the Health Risks of Smoking?

Most of us know that smoking is bad for our health. In fact, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in Australia.

If you or someone close to you is a smoker, it’s important to be realistic about the true health risks of smoking.

The following facts provide an insight into just how dangerous smoking can be:

  • Smoking kills half of all smokers who continue to smoke
  • At least 1 in 4 of those who die are aged 35-69
  • A smoker who doesn’t quit loses 10 years of their life on average
  • Smoking is responsible for about 85% of lung cancers
  • Smokers are:
    - 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer
    - 2 to 4 times more likely to have a heart attack
    - 1.5 to 2 times more likely to have a stroke
  • Smokers are generally more anxious, stressed and depressed than non-smokers
  • Smoking causes premature skin ageing
  • Smokers are more likely to lose their teeth
  • Smoking causes erectile dysfunction

Plus, there are many more consequences if you continue to smoke.

We know these statistics can be scary, particularly if you’re currently a smoker. But remember, it’s never too late to quit smoking – and no matter your age, you can dramatically reduce your health risks by doing so.

You’ll even experience immediate benefits from the day you quit – check out these instant effects!

The Link Between Smoking, Heart Disease and Lung Disease

Compared to non-smokers, smokers have a higher rate of disease, including many types of cancer, lung disease, and heart and blood vessel disease.

Use this section to discover the key facts about the link between smoking, heart disease and lung disease:

  • Smoking and Lung Cancer
  • Smoking and Emphysema
  • Smoking and Heart Disease, Stroke and Peripheral Vascular Disease

Smoking and Lung Cancer

For a life-long smoker, the risk of lung cancer is 20 times higher than a life-long non-smoker.

As with many of the health facts about smoking, this is an alarming statistic – but you can make a real difference to your health outcomes by choosing to quit smoking. Here’s what the evidence shows:

  • If you quit smoking by the age of 40, you reduce your risk of lung cancer by up to 90%
  • Quitting by the age of 50 reduces your risk by up to 65%
  • After 10 years of being smoke-free, you’ll have avoided around 40% of the risk of ever getting lung cancer
  • Even for someone newly diagnosed with early stage lung cancer, quitting smoking improves prognosis and reduces the chance of tumour progression

The sooner you quit smoking, the better your chances of having a long and healthy life.

But even if you’ve already developed lung cancer, quitting smoking can still provide significant benefits to your health and quality of life. For example, evidence suggests that more than twice as many people who quit smoking following their diagnosis are still alive after five years.

Click here for more information about quitting smoking with lung cancer

Smoking and Emphysema

Emphysema is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

It can be caused by irritants in cigarette smoke that damage the tiny air sacs found in the lungs – these air sacs are what enables oxygen to be transported into our blood stream.

The irritants in tobacco smoke reduce the elasticity of the air sacs, making it more difficult for oxygen to be passed into the blood.

Over time, this makes breathing difficult, with some smokers becoming breathless even after minor exertion.

Although quitting smoking doesn’t reverse emphysema, it does have a number of major health benefits:

  • Slows the decline of lung function to a normal (non-smoking) rate
  • Improves survival rates of emphysema sufferers
  • Decreases hospital admissions due to emphysema
  • Increases overall quality of life for people with emphysema

What’s more, some emphysema sufferers say they noticed an almost immediate improvement in their breathing after they quit smoking.

Click here for more information about quitting smoking with emphysema

Smoking and Heart Disease, Stroke and Peripheral Vascular Disease

It is never too late to quit smoking and start reducing your risk of heart disease.

And if you already have some form of heart disease, quitting reduces your risk of further damage, as well as lowering your chances of having another heart attack or stroke.

Smoking and Heart Disease

  • Smoking (and passive smoking) increases the risk of heart and blood vessel disease
  • Smoking narrows and clogs the arteries, which limits blood flow and reduces the flow of oxygen around your body
  • If certain arteries become too clogged, a blockage may eventually occur – this can cause a heart attack
  • Reduced blood supply to the heart can cause permanent damage to the heart muscles

Click here for more information about quitting smoking after a heart attack

Smoking and Stroke

  • Strokes occur when an artery carrying blood to the brain suddenly becomes blocked, causing part of the brain to die.
  • Depending on the type of stroke, this can cause loss of movement, vision or speech.
  • Smokers are 1.5 to 2 times more likely to have a stroke, with heavier smokers even more at risk.

Smoking and Peripheral Vascular Disease

  • Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is caused by arteries supplying blood to parts of the body like legs, feet, arms or hands, becoming narrow and blocked.
  • This can result in a range of symptoms, including pain while walking or resting, pins and needles, and numbness. In severe cases, the reduced blood flow can lead to amputation.
  • Smoking is a leading risk factor for developing PVD and also makes the disease worse.


Smoking and Erectile Dysfunction

  • Men who smoke have a significantly higher risk of developing impotence (erectile dysfunction) than non-smokers. The risk increases the longer you smoke and the more cigarettes you smoke. 

Find Out More

If you have an existing health condition, it’s important to know the effects of quitting smoking.

Check out Quitting Smoking with an Existing Condition >

Be Aware

Smoking damages almost every organ in your body. Stopping smoking at any time leads to major health gains.

Getting Started to begin your quit smoking journey >

Good to Know

Once you quit smoking, your risk of stroke can return to the level of someone who’s never smoked in as little as five years.

Your risk of developing coronary heart disease returns to the level of a life-long non-smoker after around 15 years.

Visit Quitting Methods to identify the best quit method for you > 

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