The visible health consequences of smoking

Yellow fingers, nails and teeth are not the only visible consequences of smoking. There are other potential negative health effects to the skin, mouth, and eyes of a person who smokes.

View health labels for cigarettes and little cigars.

What are the visible health consequences of smoking?

Skin Health

Some of the chemicals in tobacco smoke can reduce the flow of blood to the skin, making it more prone to premature aging, wrinkling, and psoriasis in people who smoke Footnote 1Footnote 2Footnote 3Footnote 4Footnote 5

The chemicals in cigarettes can also stain fingers and nails yellow.

Smoking suppresses the immune system, reducing the body's ability to heal sores and other wounds.Footnote 1Footnote 2Footnote 4Footnote 5

Oral Health

Smoking promotes the growth of harmful bacteria on tooth surfaces and weakens the immune system response to bacterial infection.Footnote 6 The chemicals in tobacco smoke can stain teeth. Nicotine also hinders the repair of damaged gum tissue.Footnote 7

People who smoke are more likely to have harmful mouth bacteria that causes gum infections. Smoking is a major cause of mouth diseases such as gum disease (periodontitis) and oral cancer.Footnote 8

In the early stages of gum disease, the gums are red and swollen, and bleed easily. Later stages of the disease can lead to tooth loss and damage to the jawbone that supports teeth.Footnote 8

An estimated one-third to one-half of all gum disease cases among adults are due to smoking. Footnote 7Footnote 9Footnote 10

In some cases, cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco can cause genetic changes in the cells of the mouth, leading to the development of oral cancer.Footnote 7Footnote 11

Oral cancer causes white and/or red lesions, patches or plaques, bony tumors, and open sores that may be seen when the mouth is open.Footnote 12 Oral cancer can occur on the tongue, lip, cheeks, gums and the roof, floor and back of the mouth.

Treatment for oral diseases can include medication, the removal of plaque or bacteria, or reconstructive surgery.Footnote 13 Oral cancer treatment often involves radiation or surgery to remove the affected tissue, which may require removal of part of the jawbone or tongue.Footnote 14 This can change the appearance of the face and affect the ability to chew, swallow, and speak.Footnote 14

Eye Health

A cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye. It can cause blurry or hazy vision. Other symptoms include light sensitivity, trouble seeing at night, and dulled colour vision.

Smoking increases the risk of cataracts.Footnote 7 Some of the chemicals in tobacco smoke can accumulate in the lens of the eye, leading to damage of the lens.Footnote 7

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide.

The only treatment for cataracts is surgery. The clouded lens is removed and replaced with a new artificial lens.

How does quitting affect the risk of visible health consequences?

Quitting smoking can improve the health of skin, improve its colour and smoothness, and protect it from premature aging.Footnote 15

Oral health will improve when someone who smokes quits and their risk of developing oral disease will decrease.Footnote 16Footnote 17 Those who quit can also be treated more successfully for gum disease compared to those who continue to smoke.Footnote 18

Quitting smoking can reduce the size of pre-cancerous lesions, patches or plaques in the mouth caused by tobacco use.Footnote 7 The risk for oral cancer also starts to decrease within the first five years of quitting. If someone has quit for 20 or more years, their risk is the same as someone who has never smoked.Footnote 19

Quitting can also lower the risk of developing cataracts and slow the progression of existing cataracts.Footnote 7

Quitting is one of the best ways to prevent the visible health consequences of smoking as well as other smoking-related diseases.Footnote 20

Health benefits of quitting tobacco use at any age

Quitting tobacco use reduces the risk of premature death, improves health, and enhances quality of life. Footnote 20 Quitting at any age is beneficial to one's health. Footnote 20 Even people who have smoked or used tobacco heavily for many years benefit from it.Footnote 7Footnote 20 It is the most important thing someone who smokes can do to improve their health.

Read more about the benefits of quitting smoking.

For help to quit

Free quit counselling, coaching and other services in your province or territory

Find services to quit smoking


Footnote 1

Freiman A, Bird G, Metelitsa A, Barankin B, Lauzon, G. Cutaneous effects of smoking. The Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery. 2004;8(6):415-423. doi:10.1007/s10227-005-0020-8.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

Rayner R. Effects of cigarette smoking on cutaneous wound healing. Primary Intention. 2006; 14(3):100-102,104.

Return to footnote 2 referrer

Footnote 3

Langton A, Tsoureli-Nikita E, Merrick H et al. The systemic influence of chronic smoking on skin structure and mechanical function. J Pathol. 2020;251:420-428. doi:10.1002/path.5476.

Return to footnote 3 referrer

Footnote 4

Liu D, Zhu L, Yang C. The effect of preoperative smoking and smoke cessation on wound healing and infection in post-surgery subjects: A meta-analysis. Int Wound J. 2022;1-6. doi: 10.1111/iwj.13815.

Return to footnote 4 referrer

Footnote 5

Mitri A, Lin G, Waldman R, Grant-Kels J. Effects of tobacco and vaping on the skin. Clinics in Dermatology. 2021;39(5):762-771.

Return to footnote 5 referrer

Footnote 6

Zhang Y, He J, He B, Huang R, Li M. Effect of tobacco on periodontal disease and oral cancer. Tobacco Induced Diseases. 2019;17:40. doi:10.18332/tid/106187.

Return to footnote 6 referrer

Footnote 7

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2004.

Return to footnote 7 referrer

Footnote 8

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Periodontal disease. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; 2013. Accessed Aug 25, 2021.

Return to footnote 8 referrer

Footnote 9

Do LG, Slade GD, Roberts-Thomson KF, Sanders AE. Smoking-attributable periodontal disease in the Australian adult population. Journal of Clinical Periodontology. 2008;35(5):398-404. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-051X.2008.01223.x.

Return to footnote 9 referrer

Footnote 10

Tomar SL, Asma S. Smoking-attributable periodontitis in the United States: findings from NHANES III. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Journal of Periodontology. 2000;71(5):743-51. doi: 10.1902/jop.2000.71.5.743.

Return to footnote 10 referrer

Footnote 11

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Using Smokeless Tobacco: A report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General. Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1986.

Return to footnote 11 referrer

Footnote 12

Montero PH, Patel S. Cancer of the oral cavity. Surgical oncology clinics of North America. 2015;24(3): 491-508. doi:10.1016/j.soc.2015.03.006.

Return to footnote 12 referrer

Footnote 13

Tariq M, Iqbal Z, Ali J, Baboota S, Talegaonkar S, Ahmad Z, Sahni JK. Treatment modalities and evaluation models for periodontitis. Int J Pharm Investig. 2012;2(3):106-22. doi: 10.4103/2230-973X.104394.

Return to footnote 13 referrer

Footnote 14

American Cancer Society. Treating oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancer. American Cancer Society; 2021.

Return to footnote 14 referrer

Footnote 15

Serri R, Romano MC, Sparavigna A. Quitting smoking rejuvenates the skin: results of a pilot project on smoking cessation conducted in Milan, Italy. Skinmed. 2010;8, 23–29. PMID: 20839421.

Return to footnote 15 referrer

Footnote 16

Costa FO, Cota LO, Lages EJ, et al. Associations of duration of smoking cessation and cumulative smoking exposure with periodontitis. Journal of Oral Science. 2013;55(3):245-253. doi:10.2334/josnusd.55.245.

Return to footnote 16 referrer

Footnote 17

Leite F, Nascimento G, Baake S, Pedersen L, Scheutz F, Rodrigo López O. Impact of Smoking Cessation on Periodontitis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prospective Longitudinal Observational and Interventional Studies, Nicotine & Tobacco Research. 2019;21(12):1600–1608.

Return to footnote 17 referrer

Footnote 18

Alexandridi F, Tsantila S, Pepelassi E. Smoking cessation and response to periodontal treatment. Australian Dental Journal. 2018;63(2):140-149. doi:10.1111/adj.12568.

Return to footnote 18 referrer

Footnote 19

Marron M, Boffetta P, Zhang Z, Zaridze D, Wunsch-Filho V, Winn DM, et al. Cessation of alcohol drinking, tobacco smoking and the reversal of head and neck cancer risk. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2010;39:182-96. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyp291.

Return to footnote 19 referrer

Footnote 20

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2020.

Return to footnote 20 referrer

Page details

Date modified: