Everyone knows smoking is bad for your lungs, but have you thought about the toll it takes on your brain? Research has shown that smoking can interfere with important cognitive processes, like learning, concentration and memory.

Cigarettes and Your Brain

A ‘smoke break’ can give you the illusion of better concentration by helping you to feel more alert, but it’s actually having the opposite effect. Cigarettes reduce the supply of oxygen to the brain, as the carbon monoxide they contain binds to the haemoglobin molecules in your red blood cells in a much stronger way than oxygen does. The lowered oxygen supply affects your brain by causing mental fatigue and poor concentration.

The long-term build-up of toxic chemicals like carbon monoxide can cause damage to your brain, especially in the areas of learning and memory.

Did you know? Nicotine (cigarette) addiction actually causes physical changes your brain. The brain develops extra nicotine receptors, in order to accommodate the large doses of nicotine it’s getting from the tobacco. That’s why you experience nicotine withdrawal when you try to quit.

What the Studies Say

Studies conducted around the world (including the United Kingdom, America and Sweden) have revealed the following worrying data about smoking and brain function:

  • Smokers show faster cognitive decline than non-smokers over a period of 10 years.
  • Adolescents who smoke show lower accuracy in their working memory performance than non-smoking teenagers.
  • In healthy older adults (35-80 years) smoking leads to poorer performance in challenging cognitive tasks. Tasks that require greater cognitive processing are significantly affected by smoking.

MRI imaging has also revealed that smokers tend to have a thinner cerebral cortex than non-smokers. The cortex is the brain’s outer layer. It’s the biggest and most highly developed part of your brain, and is responsible for functions like language and memory.

The good news is that those who quit smoking were shown to partially recover the thickness of their cerebral cortex with every year of non-smoking. If you’re a smoker, kicking the habit today could protect your brain from serious damage and decline in the years to come.


Smokers tend to have a thinner brain cortex. Retrieved from: https://www.ed.ac.uk/news/2015/smoking-110215
How Smoking Damages Mind as well as Body. Retrieved from: https://www.newsweek.com/smoking-brain-smokers-memory-learning-mind-body-525347
Age and Ageing | Oxford Academic: https://ageing.oxfordjournals.org
Time | Health: https://time.com/section/health/
Medical Dictionary: https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com
Quite Your Smoking Addiction: https://www.quityoursmokingaddiction.com
Science Daily: https://www.sciencedaily.com