COPD and Smoking

Red headed female doctor holding a red stethoscope in hand.One of the leading contributors of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is cigarette smoking.[1] Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals when burned—many of which are harmful to our bodies, including carbon monoxide. When smoke fills the lungs, these toxic chemicals replace the oxygen in our bloodstream, preventing our organs from receiving the oxygen they need to perform their essential job of keeping us healthy.[2]

Over time, smoking destroys the air sacs, damages the lung tissue, and paralyzes the cilia from successfully clearing mucus from the lungs, resulting in recurring infections, shortness of breath, wheezing, and other serious respiratory health issues.[3]

What Are the Dangers of Smoking with a Respiratory Disease?

If you’re living with COPD, and you smoke, the constant irritation and infection to your lungs can trigger flare ups (a worsening of COPD symptoms).[4] Flare ups can also result from exposure to second-hand smoke that irritate your lungs and escalate your chronic symptoms.[5]

COPD flare ups can cause further damage to your lungs and may require antibiotics and hospitalization to help manage infection.

Common signs of a COPD flare up include:

  • Frequent Coughing
  • Increased Mucus Production
  • More Wheezing
  • Severe Shortness of Breath[6]

Because smoking deprives your lungs and other essential organs from receiving oxygen, and your respiratory condition is already constricting your airways—making breathing more difficult, smoking with COPD can create a dangerous combination that may result in extensive treatment and recurring hospitalizations.[7]

Benefits of Quitting Smoking for COPD

Three icons that show what happens when you quit smoking.

Though you cannot reverse the damage already done to your lungs, you may be able to help avoid frequent COPD exacerbations from making your condition worsen over time.

According to an article in Medical News Today on the benefits of quitting smoking, in just one hour after quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure will begin to drop and return to normal, and your body’s circulation may start to improve. After one day, your oxygen levels will start to increase, and in just one year, your risk of developing a coronary heart disease is cut in half.[8]

No smoking symbolThe most important treatment approach to managing COPD is quitting smoking, as this can help prevent complications associated with your chronic condition, including heart disease and lung cancer.[9] The faster you quit, the better chance you have to slow the progression of your condition.[10] Though you may require additional COPD treatment methods, including breathing techniques, oxygen therapy, airway clearance, or rehabilitation to help manage symptoms, by quitting smoking, your individual treatment may become more effective: “…when people with COPD quit smoking, they slow down the process of deterioration in lung function, improve current lung function, decrease the symptoms associated with COPD and reduce the number of exacerbations.”[11]

Find Support for Living with COPD

Discover additional news, respiratory health tips, and information on our COPD resources page. From breathing exercises and wellness ideas for managing symptoms to understanding the benefits of airway clearance for COPD, we have the resources you need to stay informed, find the answers you need, and start a conversation with your doctor about getting the best treatment for your chronic lung condition.


[1] World Health Organization. “WHO Highlights Huge Scale of Tobacco-Related Lung Disease Deaths.” Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/29-05-2019-who-highlights-huge-scale-of-tobacco-related-lung-disease-deaths

[2] U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Keep Your Air Clear: How Tobacco Can Harm Your Lungs.” Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-information/keep-your-air-clear-how-tobacco-can-harm-your-lungs#:~:text=Because%20tobacco%20smoke%20contains%20carbon,of%20the%20oxygen%20they%20need.&text=Other%20chemicals%20found%20in%20cigarette,sore%20throat%20in%2010%20minutes.

[3] SmokeFree.gov. “Health Effects.” Retrieved from https://smokefree.gov/quit-smoking/why-you-should-quit/health-effects#:~:text=Smoking%20destroys%20the%20tiny%20air,destroyed%2C%20the%20disease%20emphysema%20develops.

[4] COPD Foundation. “Quitting Smoking.” Retrieved from https://www.copdfoundation.org/Learn-More/I-am-a-Person-with-COPD/Quitting-Smoking.aspx

[5] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Smoking and COPD.” Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/copd.html

[6] Lung Health Institute. “COPD Flare-Up: What It Is and What You Can Do.” Retrieved from https://lunginstitute.com/blog/copd-flare-up/

[7] CDC. “Smoking and COPD.” Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/copd.html

[8] Medical News Today. “What Happens After You Quit Smoking?” Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317956

[9] Mayo Clinic. “COPD: Symptoms & Causes.” Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/symptoms-causes/syc-20353679

[10] COPD Foundation. “Quitting Smoking.” Retrieved from https://www.copdfoundation.org/Learn-More/I-am-a-Person-with-COPD/Quitting-Smoking.aspx

[11] National Emphysema Foundation. “The Benefits of Quitting Smoking.” Retrieved from https://www.emphysemafoundation.org/index.php/healthy-habits/quitting-smoking/92-quitting-smoking-articles/149-the-benefits-of-quitting-smoking

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