Smoking and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Smoking is the major cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, conditions of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).Footnote1,Footnote2 Read more about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease...


The risk of dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day and with the number of years smoked.Footnote3,Footnote4

There were 10,280 deaths from COPD in Canada in 2007.Footnote5 Research has shown that in 2002, almost 80% of deaths from COPD were due to smoking.Footnote6

About half of people diagnosed with COPD are expected to die within 10 years of being diagnosed.Footnote7


These health warning messages address COPD for cigarettes and little cigars:

Just breathing is torture.

What is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

COPD, which comprises chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is the most common form of respiratory illness reported by Canadians after asthma.Footnote7

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the main air passages to the lungs, resulting in constant coughing and difficulty breathing. Emphysema is a degenerative disease characterized by the destruction of lung tissue, resulting in shortness of breath.Footnote8

COPD symptoms take several years to progress and may lead to heart failure.Footnote8

Treatment for COPD includes drugs, oxygen therapy and surgery to assist patients with their breathing.

How does smoking increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

Some of the chemicals in tobacco smokeFootnote9,Footnote10 irritate the bronchial tubes and kill the cilia, hair-like structures that are essential to the natural filtering/cleaning processes of the lung.Footnote11 This impairs the body's ability to clear mucus from the lungs.

In addition, some of the chemicals can damage the bronchial tubes and the tissues of the lungs, leading to increased difficulty breathing over time.Footnote10

The benefits of quitting

When people stop smoking, the risk of COPD starts to decrease, and respiratory symptoms, most notably a chronic productive cough, often improve compared to those who continue to smoke.Footnote12

Quitting reduces the risk of dying from COPD.Footnote11

Quitting is more effective than other measures to avoid the development of respiratory illnesses and other smoking-related diseases.

Need help to quit? Call the pan-Canadian quitline toll-free at 1-866-366-3667.

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