Smoking and the Respiratory System


Smoking has long been associated with cancer of the lungs and other respiratory diseases. It is estimated that about 33 percent of the male adults in the world smoke varying number of cigarettes. In addition to causing health and lung problems for the smoker, passive smoking is in which non-smokers who are sitting in a closed space while someone smokes also inhale the smoke and suffer respiratory problems. This paper discusses the effects of smoking on lung and respiratory diseases and also discusses passive smoking. I have selected this topic since smoking has many harmful effects not only for the smoker but also for the people who are forced to sit nearby.

Environment Issue, Body System

We live and interact with our environment in many ways and it should be noted that any pollution that is caused by human activity will ultimately harm us. Pollution of water, air, and land cause disease-causing germs and harmful toxins to be released and these toxins are ingested by the human body and cause health problems. The human body has many systems that run like fine clockwork and help us to live and function.

Some of the systems are the digestive system, respiratory system, circulatory system, musculoskeletal system, nervous system, and many others. Most of these systems are involuntary and if any one of them is diseased or infected, they stop functioning and can cause sickness and even death. Also, the environment plays a very important role in deciding how these systems function, and any pollution or ingestion of toxins, physical injury, and so on can severely hamper their functioning (WHO. 2005).

Brief statistics on Smoking

According to World Health Organization (WHO, 2005) report, one person dies every second in the world due to cigarette smoking and cigarettes are responsible for the death of one out of 10 adults in the world, and by 2030, one in 6 people will die from smoking. While developed countries such as the UK and the US have seen smoking rates falling, in developing countries, smoking is increasing by 3.4% every year. Cigarettes are big business and about 10 million cigarettes are sold each minute and this works out to a staggering 15 billion cigarettes each day. Philip Morris, the largest cigarette manufacturer in the world has an advertising budget of 3 billion USD.

These advertisements make smoking appealing by linking with sophistication, machismo, adventure, tough people, sexual libido and appeal, and so on and this is misleading the public on a grand scale. Children and teens are most influenced by advertisements and in the US; one in 5 teens takes to smoking before they reach 15 years of age. Healthcare costs provided by governments incurred expenses of 150 billion USD in 2005 in the US. Smoking is addictive and causes many debilitating diseases that can be easily prevented. Smoking not only harms the smoker but also the spouse, children, and colleagues who are forced to inhale the smoke.

Smoking and Respiratory problems

Smoking decreased the capacity of the lung and reduces the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream that is taken in to provide nourishment to tissues and power for the muscles. Lungs function as gas exchangers for the body and the main fuel needed by the muscles, organs, and cells is oxygen. Oxygen is extracted from the air we breathe in and it is passed to the heart through the artery called the pulmonary artery.

The artery distributes oxygen to all parts of the body through the blood that is being pumped. When expiration or exhalation occurs, air from which oxygen is removed is pumped along with waste products such as carbon dioxide. The lungs also have a number of bronchi and bronchioles that help in distributing oxygen and the lungs also serve as filters and remove harmful pollutants from the air that is breathed. Bronchi are the two main passages through which air is pushed into the lungs and Bronchioles are millions of small airways that branch off from the bronchi and carry the oxygen.

Alveoli are minute air sacs that are located at the tip of bronchioles and they work like small balloons as they expand and contract during air intake and exhalation. In addition, then are millions of Cilia or small that line the airways and work as filters, removing the pollutants that are breathed in. There is also a thin film of mucous and along with the cilia and form a lining in the breathing tubes. The mucous serves to trap pollutants present in the inhaled air and the cilia move like a wave and push the mucous filled with dirt out of the lungs and this dirt comes out one we cough, spit or swallow. When clean air is taken in, then there is no problem, and oxygen is extracted and passed to the bloodstream. The mucous also acts as an antiseptic and destroys any bacteria before they enter the lungs (Wilson, 2008).

When a person inhales cigarette smokes along with air, the warm, nicotine-laden smoke, has sticky nicotine that clogs the cilia and dries up the mucus as a result, impure nicotine-laden air is pushed inside the lungs where it forms a thin coating on the lungs. The coating tends to reduce the efficiency of the cilia and impure air is passed inside the lungs. Nicotine forms a thin layer on the alveoli and reduces their elasticity and as a result, they are not able to expand and contract efficiently as much as required and this, in turn, means that the lungs have a lesser quantity of oxygen available to pass on to the blood stream.

With lesser oxygen available, feelings of tiredness and breathlessness come when a smoker tries to walk fast or climb stairs. This is because the lungs start overworking and consume more energy to provide the required amount of oxygen. Thus smoking causes the first signs of stroke as the heart is over-exerted since it is faster to supply the required amount of blood. Cigarette smoking leads to arteriosclerosis. Smoking also causes respiratory diseases since the cilia and mucous are depleted and allow diseases causing germs into the body. This can cause infection of the lungs and can lead to diseases such as bronchitis, tuberculosis and also cause cancer in the case of chronic smokers (Wilson, 2008).

Passive Smoking

Passive smoking or secondhand smoking is the involuntary or forced inhalation of cigarette smoke by people who may be non-smokers or those who are giving up smoking. When cigarette smoke is exhaled, it still has a lot of nicotine content in it and people who are in a closed room or a car are forced to inhale the smoke. The poisoning effects on passive smokers are similar to the ones faced by smokers. Passive smoking can occur in closed places such as nightclubs, bars, trains, cinema lobbies, restaurants, cars, and even homes. Passive smoking is reported to kill more than 40, 000 people each year and most of the victims are innocent and have never smoked but work in bars, restaurants, cabs, trains, and other areas (Stayne, 2007).

The tragic part about passive smoking is that innocent children and babies are exposed made victims of the harmful habits of their parents who smoke. Research suggests that children who have been exposed to passive smoking from a young age also become smokers by the time they reach teenagers. Children and toddlers who are exposed to cigarette smoke would have a high incidence of needing hospitalization for severe infectious diseases. Second-hand smoking places toddlers and babies at a far higher exposure and risk for very deadly and fatal diseases such as meningococcal. Children who are born pre-maturely and have low birth weight would probably require hospitalization before they turn 1 year.

A study by the Tobacco Control website yesterday examined 7,402 children from Hong Kong and followed their medical history till the kids were eight. Children who had been victims of passive smoking for the initial 6 months when they were babies had a forty-five percent more chance of being admitted to the hospital with the infectious disease by the time they were eight years old. One among three children who had a smoking parent or a nanny who smoked was hospitalized within a few months after being born.

Prematurely born kids who were passive smokers had a 75% higher chance of being hospitalized for respiratory diseases by the time they were 8 years old. The children had increased incidences of being victims of pneumonia, glue ear, bronchitis, and other forms of allergies (Daily Mail, May 27, 2008).

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – SID occurs when healthy babies less than a year old suddenly die for no apparent reason. The sudden death of an infant in the postneonatal period without any clinical and necropsy evidence (termed sudden infant death syndrome, SIDS), is the most common cause of death in the western world. A number of risk factors for SIDS have been associated with SIDS and smoking by pregnant women is one of them and unfortunately, a large number of women smoke. Based on self-reporting, 22% of females from Sweden, 21% of women from Norway, and 15 % of women from the US smoked when they were pregnant.

It has also been estimated that a quarter of pregnant women smoke. These women have a previous offspring who is often a toddler and would always be near the mother and continuously inhale the smoke released by the mother. In pregnant women, the foetus in the womb is directly exposed to nicotine that is absorbed from the blood of the mother when she smokes. After they are born, these babies would be again exposed to direct smoke exhaled by the mother when she feeds the child or when other people smoke. Some constituents of the inhaled side-stream smoke is present in higher concentrations than in mainstream smoke, such as nicotine.

Based on nicotine equivalents, children from homes where both parents smoke more than 20 cigarettes per day, are exposed to half a cigarette per day, whereas they are exposed to 4 – 5 cigarettes per day. The effects of mother’ smoking is greater than that of fathers’, especially at high levels of consumption. Thus, passive smoking in young children may be considerable when parents smoke in the home. It is therefore not unexpected that such contamination will result in health effects in the exposed children (Dybing Erik, 22 September 1998).

Research conducted from 1980s has shown extensive link between one or both parents smoking in the car or the house when children are around and the kids developing diseases such as asthma, runny noses, sneezing, feeling of suffocation, burning eyes, coughing and other allergies and infections. Such children have a diminished lung capacity when compared to other children of the same physical attributes and age groups.

Such children would wheeze, have sore throats, and have mild to severe respiratory problems. These children also develop symptoms of asthma and are prone to fall sick at small and minor infections and may require immediate hospitalisation. There are reports that the body immune system of the children breaks down and the body reduces the resistance to fight diseases on its own. This compounded with strong medicines used to fight the disease make the children resistant to anything accept the most powerful medicines and this resistance gets built up over a period of time and by the time the child reaches teenage, the body is almost defenceless.

Smoke coming from smouldering cigarettes when the child is asleep is more harmful since the body is not doing any exercise when sleeping and there is no way to remove the built up toxins in the blood stream and they are absorbed by the body. The result is a progression to heart disease, bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer, feeling of tiredness, lack of motivation and will power and most dangerous, the child becomes a smoker by the time it becomes a teen.

Treatment and Support Groups

Treatment for cure involves therapy, group support and meeting, faith healing and developing a will to quit smoking. If a smoker decides to quit, then he would develop addiction pangs and this introduces extreme stress that can lead to nervous and stress related problems. One should delay acting on the urge to smoke and not open a pack or light a cigarette. After a few minutes, the urge to smoke weakens and the determination to quit will come back.

By taking deep breathes and slow breathe in and breathe out, by drinking water and taking the mind of smoking will help to reduce the urge to smoke. There are many support groups in New Zealand that help people to quit smoking and these groups conduct regular sessions and help to interact with people who have quit smoking. Some of the groups are Quit that has a number of members who help each other to quit smoking (Quit. 2008)


The paper has examined the respiratory health problems caused by smoking and has analysed the effects of smoking on the lungs and the evil effects of passive smoking on children. Prolonged inhalation of cigarette smoke causes a nicotine coating on the lungs, the alveoli, bronchi and the cilia and dries up the mucous layer that absorbs the dirt and pollutants. This results in bacteria and disease causing germs to enter the lungs and reduce the capacity of lungs to absorb oxygen.

Passive smoking is caused when non smokers are forced to inhale the cigarette smoke in closed places such as bars, restaurants, hotels and also in homes and cars where parents light up cigarettes. The most tragic victims are young babies, toddlers and young children, including foetus in the womb. Pregnant mothers who smoke end up passing nicotine to the foetus and the passive smoking continues even as the baby grows up. Both children and adults who are passive smokers develop allergies, bronchitis, asthma and other diseases. The paper has also discussed how one can quit smoking through therapy and will power and also examined groups that encourages one to stop smoking


Daily Mail. 2008. Passive smoking threat to children. Daily Mail Newspaper. p: 20.

Dybing Erik. 1998. Passive smoking, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and childhood infections. Presented at the International Academic Symposium on ‘Passive Smoking & Children: Clinical and Experimental Forums’, Essen.

Stayner L. Bena J. Sasco AJ. 2007. Lung cancer risk and workplace exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. American journal of public health. Volume 97. Issue 3. pp: 545–51.

Wilson David O, Weissfeld Joel L. 2008. Association of Radiographic Emphysema and Airflow Obstruction with Lung Cancer. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Volume 178. Issue 7. pp: 738-744.

Quit. 2008. Help with quitting. Web.

WHO. 2005. Fact Sheets, Smoking Statistics: World Health Organization. Web.