Smoking nicotine-containing cigarettes is similar to a slow form of suicide. The consequences, the impact on your body systems and organs, may not be immediately obvious but will, in time, become deadly clear.

Silent killer

The biggest and most deadly consequences of smoking are those taking place silently in your body. Every time you inhale you give the approximately 7,000 toxic and cancer-causing chemicals and compounds in cigarettes the go-ahead to damage nearly every system and organ in your body – silently and efficiently!

Heart and blood vessels

Tobacco smoke has a negative effect on your blood cells and the functioning of your heart. The chemicals in the smoke cause your heart rate and blood pressure to increase and also helps thicken and narrow blood vessels. These conditions increase your risk of numerous heart and blood vessel conditions such as:

  • Aneurysms: bulging blood vessels that may cause death upon bursting
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Heart attacks
  • Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) which is damage to the arteries that carry blood to the head, organs and limbs
  • Stroke triggered by blood clots or bleeding and the sudden death of brain cells.

Another sad reality of smoking is that exposure to second-hand smoke can also harm the heart and blood vessels of non-smokers such as colleagues, spouses, babies and children.


You need healthy lungs to breathe in oxygen and breathe out toxins. The small sacs called bronchioles and alveoli where oxygen exchange takes place need to inflate as you breathe in and deflate when you breathe out. When these elastic, spongy sacs and tubes lose their elasticity due to the toxic compounds in cigarette smoke, oxygen exchange is greatly impaired. When that happens, your body is in grave danger and susceptible to various conditions and diseases that make breathing difficult, if not impossible.
They include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that consists of two conditions, emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Tuberculosis

Another huge risk is lung cancer, the biggest cause of cancer deaths both in South Africa and abroad. This trend is also likely to increase and worsen as more women are now smoking and more men start dying after decades of tobacco use, warn medical experts.

Reproductive organs and health

It’s a long-established fact that smoking can negatively affect male sperm count, reduce fertility and make achieving and maintaining an erection difficult.

As for women, the simple act of smoking can make it more difficult for a woman to become pregnant naturally or via in-vitro fertilisation. It may also significantly raise a woman’s risk for an ectopic pregnancy where the embryo develops outside the walls of the uterus, typically in the fallopian tubes. Other risks include early, pre-term delivery of the baby, stillbirths and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), also known as crib death.


The largest organ in the body is also the first line of defence for keeping out invading forces such as bacteria and viruses. Smoking damages skin and causes it to toughen, stretch, wrinkle and sag. Psoriasis (skin condition), some forms of skin cancer, warts and poor wound healing have all been associated with smoking.


Scientists have recently discovered a link between smoking tobacco and osteoporosis; a decrease in bone density.


Smoking has been associated with conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndrome.

Other organs affected

Smoking is one of the known causes of cancers that affect the following organs:

  • Trachea (windpipe)
  • Pharynx, the tube that connects the mouth and nasal passages with the oesophagus
  • Oesophagus, the part of the alimentary canal between the pharynx and the stomach
  • Oral and nasal cavities
  • Lips
  • Larynx, the structure in which the vocal cords are located
  • Stomach
  • Bladder
  • Pancreas
  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • Uterine cervix (mouth of the womb)
  • Colon
  • Rectum


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Weller, C. 2014. Smoking kills (your organs): six major organs damaged by cigarette smoke. Retrieved from: