Hesperian Health Guides

Problems from Tobacco

Health problems from smoking

People who smoke become addicted to a drug in tobacco called nicotine. Without a cigarette, they may feel sick or nervous. It is very hard to stop smoking, because nicotine is a very addictive drug.

Since more men than women used to smoke, smoking has mainly been seen as a men’s health problem. But smoking is a growing cause of poor health among women. It is also a growing cause of health problems in poor countries. One reason for this is that smoking helps people cope with stress. Another is that tobacco companies are trying harder to sell cigarettes in these countries, as more people in rich countries stop smoking.

Smoking can cause disease in those around you who do not smoke.

In both men and women, smoking can cause:

  • serious diseases of the lungs, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
  • severe colds and coughs.
  • cancer of the lung, mouth, throat and neck, and bladder.
  • heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.

Some of these problems can cause death. In fact, one out of 4 people who smoke will die from a health problem connected to smoking.

a woman holding a small child on her lap while she and a man smoke cigarettes
Children whose parents smoke have more lung infections and other lung and breathing health problems than children whose parents do not smoke.

Smoking is worse for women

In addition to the problems above, women who smoke have a greater risk of:

  • difficulty getting pregnant (infertility).
  • miscarriage, and babies born too small or too soon.
  • problems when using birth control pills.
  • monthly bleeding that ends earlier in life (menopause).
  • weaker bones that break more easily during mid-life and old age (osteoporosis).
  • cancer of the cervix and womb.

A woman who is pregnant should try to avoid people who are smoking, so that the smoke will not harm her baby.

This page was updated:13 Jun 2019