Ill lady iwith white scarf around her head in white bathrobe comforting her young son while husband looks on.

The risks of smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health.

At least 1 in every 2 smokers will die early from smoking…but the more you smoke and longer you wait to quit the worse the risks.

Tobacco smoke is full of thousands of toxic chemicals which harm every part of our body. The risks are the same whether you smoke cigarettes or roll ups.


Click on the circle highlights to see conditions caused by smoking

The brain of a stroke victim cut in half to show a blood clot


Stroke – Smoking causes blood clots, raises blood pressure and doubles the risk of having a stroke

Dementia – Smoking is one of the main risk factors and increases your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Stress and anxiety – smoking worsens stress and anxiety. Quitting can have the same impact as taking anti-depressants.

Image of someone's eye held open with a speculum


Smoking can lead to vision loss and blindness. It causes serious eye conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration.


Smoking mutates our cells and increases the risk of 16 types of cancer, including mouth cancer

Anatomcal image of a heart inside a man's chest cavity


Every cigarette makes fatty deposits stick to your arteries. This reduces blood flow to the heart and increases your risk of having a heart attack.


Smoking mutates cells and increases the risk of 16 types of cancer – including cancers of the neck, throat and oesophagus.

Anatomical image of lung cancer tumour


COPD is a disease where the lungs are damaged and is mainly caused by smoking. Feeling short of breath and/ or a cough are symptoms. Find out about smoking and COPD.

Lung cancer: tobacco mutates cells and is the leading cause of cancer deaths and is mainly caused by smoking. Find out more about Smoking and Cancer

Asthma – smoking increases your risk of asthma symptoms and asthma attacks.


Anatomical close-up image of emphysema

Respiratory system

Smoking can lead to regular winter illnesses. It harms your immune system and can worsen respiratory infections such as colds, flu, pneumonia and Covid. Find out about smoking and COPD.


Smoking hardens the arteries and can cause high blood pressure. This raises the risks of heart attack and stroke.

Reproductive system

Smoking causes mutations in cells which cause cancer – including cancers of the bowel, bladder, ovaries and cervix.

Smoking can cause impotence in men and can lead to infertility in men and women. It can also cause birth defects in babies.


Anatomical close-up of cancer cells

Liver, stomach, pancreas, kidney

Smoking mutates cells and increases the risk of cancers, including cancers of the liver, stomach, pancreas, diabetes and kidney


Smoking can lead to severe leg pain, reduced mobility and even amputation through Peripheral artery disease (PAD).

PAD is where cigarette smoke narrows your arteries and reduces blood flow to your limbs. With PAD your legs or arms don’t receive enough blood flow, which can lead to pain and even gangrene and amputation.

Smoking harms your body in so many ways

Find out more below

Anatomical image of lung cancer tumour

Smoking causes 16 different types of cancer. It is the biggest cause of cancer in the world.  Lung cancer kills around 35,000 people every year in the UK. Smoking also causes cancers of the mouth, nasal cavity, throat and voice box, stomach, kidney, bowel, liver, pancreas, urine tube, oesophagus, cervix (lower womb), bladder and ovaries and myeloid leukaemia.

Find out more about smoking and cancer.

Anatomical image of the lungs og someone with emphysema

COPD is a disease where the lungs are damaged. Feeling short of breath, a chronic cough and wheezing are early warning signs. These can sometimes be worse in the winter.  COPD is the UK’s 5th biggest killer and is mainly caused by smoking. The chance of COPD increases the more you smoke and the longer you’ve smoked for. COPD can develop from the age of around 40.

Find out about smoking and COPD.

Anatomcal image of a heart inside a man's chest cavity

Smoking increases your risk of developing heart attacks and stroke. The chemicals in cigarettes make the walls of your arteries sticky, making fatty material to stick to the walls. If the arteries that carry blood to your heart get clogged, it can lead to a heart attack. If the arteries that carry blood to your brain get clogged, it can lead to a stroke. Smoking also raises your risk of blood clots, causes an instant rise to your heart rate and blood pressure.

There is strong evidence smoking can increase your risk of dementia.

The two most common types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, are both linked to problems with your heart and blood vessels. Smoking increases these risks via strokes or smaller bleeds in the brain, which are also risk factors for dementia.

Toxins in cigarette smoke increase oxidative stress and inflammation, which have both been linked to developing of Alzheimer’s disease.

(Image: National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health)

Smoking raises the risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is where sugar (glucose) in the blood becomes too high.

Smokers with diabetes are even more at risk of heart disease, kidney disease, eye problems. Smoking also raises the risks of poor blood flow in the legs which can lead to infections, ulcers, and even amputation of a limb, such as a leg.

People with diabetes who smoke are also more prone to damaged nerves to the arms and legs. This can cause numbness, pain, weakness, and poor coordination.

Image of someone's eye held open with a speculum

Smoking doubles the chances of losing your eyesight. It can lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – one of the UK’s leading causes of sight loss.

Smoking can also lead to cataracts which results in cloudy or blurry vision.

Collage of nine x-ray images featuring different fractured bones

Smoking leads to weaker bones and in older age raises the risks of osteoporosis (where bones become more brittle), fractures, back pain and degenerative disc disease.

A young woman in a hospital bed wearing breathing apparatus

Smoking harms the immune system. Smokers are more vulnerable to Covid, more likely to develop influenza and worse flu symptoms.

Smokers are also twice as likely to get pneumonia compared to non-smokers and have an increased chance of suffering pneumonia after surgery.

Boy with blackened lungs and smoke poison words around him

Secondhand smoke harms babies and children.

Smoking around children raises their risk of respiratory infections, worse asthma symptoms, more coughs, phlegm and wheezing, and increased risk of cot death and glue ear.

Newborn baby in intensive care wearing breathing apparatus

Every cigarette you smoke contains thousands of toxic chemicals. This means smoking when you are pregnant harms your unborn baby.

Stopping smoking will mean you are more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and birth. It means your baby is less likely to be born early and less likely to spend time in hospital.

It will also reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death.