Smokers Lungs – The Hard Truth

This page was updated on Thursday 15th of February 2018

The Price of Smoking

The lungs of smokers change in structure, function, and appearance over the course of smokers’ lives. The problems in smokers lungs can be categorized as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an umbrella term that encompasses two major conditions: chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis occurs when the lungs’ airways clog and swell with mucus. Many smokers can develop both chronic bronchitis and emphysema at the same time.


Emphysema literally makes it difficult to exhale. Contrary to popular belief, emphysema does not affect the ability to inhale: it is exactly the opposite. Smoking damages the lungs’ elasticity: inhaling changes lungs’ shape, and certain tissues return them to their deflated shape. The tissue damage from smoking makes it difficult for lungs to deflate. The lungs of emphysema patients literally appear to be misshapen, with an intermittently swollen, bubbly texture and extreme discoloration. Breathing eventually becomes impossible.

Emphysema patients cannot be effectively treated at all unless they stop smoking. By the time emphysema patients have been diagnosed, it may be too late to recover. The body can never entirely repair the lung damage from emphysema, and medications can only reduce the symptoms.

The lungs of long-term smokers famously look black, brown, and scarred.

Smokers CoughLung cancer patients have visible white patches on their lungs, which is the cancer itself.
Cigarette smoke contains hundreds of toxins. The lungs have macrophages that engulf all toxins entering the lungs from the outside. Smokers inhale so many toxins from cigarette smoke that the macrophages in their lungs are literally filled with them. Under a microscope, these particles are visible in the macrophages, but smokers have inhaled so many of these particles that their lungs look black to even the unaided eye. Every puff on a cigarette releases more toxins into the body for the macrophages to consume, and all of it shows up on smokers lungs.

Cigarette Smoke Weakens the Body and Its Defenses

Cigarette smoking causes nearly ninety percent of all deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. On a physical level, cigarette smoke destroys the cilia in the airways of lungs, which helps clear lungs and fight infections. Effectively, cigarette smoke both weakens the body and its defenses, making the body that much more susceptible to the damage from cigarettes in the first place.

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What Is In Cigarette Smoke?

Cigarette smoke contains cyanide, carbon monoxide, and tar nicotine, much of which essentially stays in the lungs when inhaled. Smokers may feel as if the smoke is inhaled and exhaled, but only about ten percent of what is in the smoke is removed from the body. Smokers inhale hundreds of thousands of cigarettes over the course of their addiction. The deeper that smokers inhale, the longer their lungs hold the smoke, and the greater the damage to the lungs.

Even nonsmoking city residents have intermittent small black specks on their lungs, which are carbon deposits from city pollution. However, nonsmokers’ lungs are still pink and smooth, with a clear outline and shiny texture. During autopsies, it is almost immediately obvious who smoked and who did not during their lifetimes, just by the appearance of their lungs.

Find out how lungs are affected by passive smoking.

Smokers Lungs AFTER Quitting

Smokers lungs look dramatically different after quitting smoking, even in the short-term. Lung function improves by five percent within nine months of quitting smoking. The body is good at healing itself, but timing is important, as is prevention.

2 Responses to “Smokers Lungs – The Hard Truth”

  1. Dale says:

    Hi David

    I was really interested in the information that you have on smokers’ lungs.

    You said “Smoking damages the lungs’ elasticity”. We have a steep drive to the house about 200 paces in length. 4 months ago I was smoking around 25 cigarettes per day and when having to walk up the driveway I would have to stop half way for a minute or so to get my breath back again. Now I can walk up the drive at a brisk pace without having to stop.

    I just wanted to share this with others who visit your site and are considering quitting.


    • David says:

      Thanks for sharing that with us Dale. I also find walking up hills much easier. By the way, well done with quitting!


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