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Tobacco: The Danger In Our Midst

Tobacco smoking is one of the most preventable causes of premature death in the world today. Since its discovery in the farmlands of the Americas dating back to 1000 BC, it has continued to be a part of society and has been utilised in different forms – chewed, snuffed, smoked via pipes, in cigarette sticks, shisha or vapes. Tobacco products are prepared from the leaves of the tobacco
plant and contain amongst other things, nicotine, cyanide and other chemicals capable of causing cancer.


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 8 million deaths are directly caused by tobacco every year with about 1 million deaths due to second-hand smoking, totalling about one death every four seconds. It is a risk factor for virtually all diseases, including heart disease, strokes, cancer and lung disease.

The 31st of May is set aside to raise awareness on the dangers of tobacco. On this day, 24-hour abstinence from smoking is advised to commemorate the day. The theme for this year’s event is Tobacco and Lung Health. In this article, we will discuss the effects of tobacco on the lungs, highlighting the negative effects of tobacco on lung health for smokers and the general populace.

What Do The Lungs Do?

Ailing Lungs, Photo: NewAtlas

The lungs are responsible for the exchange of air between the body and the outside world. The body is made of tiny units called cells which require oxygen to live and function. The body also produces a harmful substance at the end of its cellular processes called carbon dioxide that needs to be removed. This exchange is made possible by the lungs.

When air enters the nostrils or mouth,  it is channelled via different tubes into a Y-shaped structure called the bronchi. This funnels air into the lungs and divides into smaller pipes that enable air-exchange to take place.

When tobacco is inhaled, the processes that help prevent dirt from entering the body via the respiratory system are knocked out and the chemicals in tobacco smoke are left to wreak havoc almost immediately on the lungs. This causes a reduction in lung function and overall health.

What Are Some Of The Negative Consequence Of Tobacco On The Lungs?

Around the world, about 20% of adult men and 16% of adult women smoke. A considerable amount of children are, however, exposed to second-smoke, unable to get rid of the exposure.

Lung cancer

Tobacco smoking is directly linked to the development of lung cancer. It is responsible for nearly 70% of all cases of lung cancer-related deaths globally, totalling 1.8 million deaths. Although smokers are 22 times more likely to develop lung cancer, secondary smokers are also at risk of developing lung cancer due to their exposure to exhaled tobacco smoke.


Tobacco does not cause tuberculosis but may worsen the outcome of tuberculosis. Being a dangerous killer in its own respect, tuberculosis was responsible for over 1 million deaths in 2018.

Tobacco contains chemicals that may damage the lung and trigger latent tuberculosis. Overall, this increases the risk of disability or death from tuberculosis.

Chronic Respiratory Illnesses

Tobacco is the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – a condition in which the lungs are filled with pus-filled mucus, causing a painful cough, difficulty breathing and reduced quality of life. Globally, about 250 million people are living with COPD.

Tobacco also triggers asthma – a disease of the air passages which causes inflammation and recurrent but reversible attacks of breathlessness. Tobacco also worsens asthmatic attacks and may lead to the development of other lung diseases such as pneumonia.

Air pollution

The components of tobacco smoke are a dangerous form of air pollution. They are capable of causing great harm to the human body. Smoke emitted from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke exhaled by a smoker is responsible for air pollution. This is hazardous to humans at every stage of their lives but worse for children. Children exposed to tobacco smoke are found to have reduced lung growth and function which affects them till adulthood.

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