Smoker’s Lungs and How to Save Them

Most people know that smoking is really bad for your health. It affects nearly every organ in your body and increases your risk of developing various diseases, the risks of which go up the longer you smoke. But the one part of your body that is arguably the most affected by smoking is your lungs. Let’s take a closer look at what exactly a smoking habit does to your lungs.


Changes in Appearance

Because they’re continually pumped up with oxygen, normal and healthy lungs are plump and pink. They may not be pretty to look at, but they’re clean and pure. However, you can instantly recognize a smoker’s lungs on sight. Smokers’ lungs are black. The black color is because every time you inhale a cigarette, it deposits tar in your lungs. Over time and after smoking lots of cigarettes every day, enough tar deposits build up inside the bronchioles until it is distributed throughout the entire lungs. On top of that, you may have separate dark spots from smoking related pollution, too.

Although it’s not as visible to the naked eye, there are a lot of tiny changes inside your lungs, too. Your lungs have little hair-like structures called cilia, which act like gentle brushes to move particles through your lungs and help you to breathe better. But smoking ultimately damages off those cilia, so you don’t get the same benefits they offered. The cilia rest overnight when you don’t smoke, but eventually that damage can become permanent.

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The Dreaded “Smoker’s Cough”

You’re probably familiar with the sound of an older person who has smoked for many years because they have a distinctive hacking cough, often called the “smoker’s cough.”  The smoker’s cough doesn’t just sound unpleasant – it’s also very uncomfortable for the one doing the coughing. The chemicals in smoke, like hydrogen cyanide, irritate the lining of your bronchial passages and cause inflammation that leads to coughing.

Your lungs do work to try to remove the tar you inhale by smoking, by moving it out of the lungs through the bronchiole tubes and up into the trachea. But nicotine paralyzes the cilia, so that causes the coughing because your lungs have to work that much harder. Whatever irritants you can cough up comes out in the form of phlegm.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Imagine never feeling like you can get enough air into your lungs, and how hard that would make it for you to breathe. That’s exactly what happens if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, which is a serious illness that’s believed to be caused by cigarette smoking. Other conditions, particularly certain jobs like coal mining or working in an environment with very bad air quality, can also lead to COPD.

Emphysema is sometimes referred to as a separate illness from COPD, but emphysema is actually an early stage of the other disease and refers to changes that are occurring within the lungs. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are both associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and symptoms feel like extreme shortness of breath, wheezing, being unable to catch your breath and intense coughing.  Ultimately, COPD is really bad news, because it almost always gets gradually worse and results in death.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the biggest bad news you can get when you’re a smoker. Although some cases of lung cancer can be caused by other factors, like exposure to radon, asbestos and radiation, the vast majority of cases of lung cancer happen to smokers or people who live with smokers. According to the American Lung Association, about 85 to 90 percent of people with lung cancer are current or former smokers.

Although lung cancer can be somewhat treatable when caught in the early stages, it’s often undiscovered until it’s too late because the symptoms are mistaken for allergies or other chronic respiratory symptoms associated with smoking.

Recovering Your Breath

Your lungs provide the literal breath of life, and they can do a lot to regenerate themselves when they’re exposed to damage. But a regular smoking habit really takes a major toll on your lungs, and in many cases your lungs just can’t overcome the amount of damage. The good news is that your body has a big capacity to heal, and the sooner you quit smoking, the sooner you reduce the risk of damage to your lungs.

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Published: October 11, 2017 Updated: May 14, 2019



Leave a comment

53 comments on “Smoker’s Lungs and How to Save Them

  • Karie

    September 6, 2019 at 4:14 pm

    My husband and I quit smoking 11 weeks ago and YES it was very hard to quit! We used the patch (1/2) each him only 2 days, me for 7 days and it worked! I chew nicotine gum and probably will for the rest of my life, but we are NOT smoking! We are both 52 years old, we walk 2 miles every morning and we can’t believe we used to smoke! 35 years of smoking for both of us! Have faith and believe in yourself if you want to quit!kari

    • suresh

      February 22, 2020 at 9:55 pm

      And celebrations
      When I tell everyone that you’re in love
      With me
      And jubilations
      I want the world to know I’m happy as can be.
      Who could believe that I could be happy and
      I used to think that happiness hadn’t been
      But that was in the bad old days before
      I met you
      When I let you
      Walk into my heart

  • anonymous

    July 14, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    A family member was just diagnosed with lung cancer, after diagnosis of emphysema.

    It”s immoral to even create such a hideous life killing tool of the devil.

    Like it or not, people will still smoke,

  • Jason

    June 28, 2019 at 10:51 am

    4 days into quiting cold turkey. If anyone says its easy to quit they are stupid. Try fighting yourself. No matter how much you put it in your mind your quiting there is always those frequent moments of one wont hurt. Im 32 been smoking for 18 years. Its a straight struggle……ughh i hate everything right now

  • Sean lumsden

    June 3, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    I started smoking at 15, stopped just after my 30th birthday… That was 6 months ago. Its been tough but worth it.. Believe its possible and it shall be so. Good luck to you all.

  • Dan

    May 23, 2019 at 9:52 am

    Wouldn’t recommend vaping long term, only as a temporary fix to cut down your nicotine intake before quiting vaping too. I was a smoker for around 20 years, then started vaping for another few years and I can honestly say it’s only since I quit both ive coughed up all the crap properly and actually feel good. Alot of people mindlessly recommending vaping as a near safe alternative and Its clearly not. It also needs a degree of maintenance like regualy changing the coil because using a ecig with a old coil is VERY bad for you, potentially worse than smoking. Hope you all succeed in quiting both.

  • J Edgar Hoover

    September 14, 2018 at 4:03 am

    Smoming sucks when its a habit. I smoked since I was 18. I am 43 now and stopped smoming 13 days ago. Can someone say hallelujah!

    Its stinky dirty and deathly !

  • Ajhay

    July 27, 2018 at 1:40 am

    I started smoking when im im 30 i decided to quit in the last 3 weeks no cig. At all even though i have a store selling cig.. in firts day or week is kind of hard craving in me go by and by…. but im always telling my self its good for my health to stop this hobbit… as off today my lungs is smoke free for 3 weeks… and i feeling a little cough that helps me get out of the plem and tar in my lungs…

  • Robert

    July 26, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    Oh I forgot to mention that most people have issues quitting do to stress an Boredom. For a lot of you people who cant quit. Ots not cause you cant quit it’s probably because you just dont want to right now. Your body wants you to but deep inside you really donr want to quit. I’m tired of people saying that they quit smoking. It literally is the easiest thing even. Just dont do it, stay away from people who do it, an find a replacement for the ciggs. That’s literally all you got to do. An no it doesn’t matter how long you have been smoking the same steps works for everyone. An if it doesn’t its cause you didnt follow the 3 steps or you just didnt want to. That’s all I’m saying. If you cant quit an you dont follow those 3 things then your a waste of space on here cause that would mean your telling everyone you want to quit but really dont

  • Robert

    July 26, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    Literally people think that its cause of themselves is why they cant quit. If you want to quit you cant be around other smokers. It will make you want one even more. An all you have to do is keep yourself busy. People think that you need patch or help. You don’t. You just need to keep yourself busy an find something to replace the ciggs. Like the old fashion cashews or something. You dont need medicine or patches to quit they just try to make it seem it. I have a uncle 5hat smoked for 34 years. Didnt need a patch or any medicine. Doctors told him it would be the easiest way, it wasnt. All he did was eat cashews an that’s how he quick. So in my opinion doctors now says that wont earn them money so they wont tell you them.

  • Suicidal Loser

    July 16, 2018 at 6:13 am

    I’m 22 and have been smoking for over 10 years. I hate it it and I hate myself. My parents never tried to discourage my smoking if I had the money my mom and dad never had a problem buying my smokes. Even when I was 13. Both my parents smoke and when they found out I did they were very relived, it meant that they no longer had to smoke outside the house. Quickly, my house became a hotbox a cigarette smoke everyday. Coming home from school was worse than walking in a bar. My parents are and were neglectful in many ways, this in my opinon being the worst. Now I’m an adult, all I want is for my dad to step outside to smoke again but he refuses. I can’t quit when Im constantly surrounded by it no matter what I do beg or plead. It is his house, his rules. That means shitfaced drunk, and smoking. I want to quit but I can’t. I have 0 support and a family that doesn’t give a f*ck about me. If they did they wouldn’t bought thier f*cking 13 year old son cigarettes so they could smoke in the house. I need help bad. I want to kill myself and Im cutting again. My chest hurts so bad and I can’t breath when I try and sleep it hurts

  • Anya

    July 15, 2018 at 8:28 am

    I used to smoke 10 yrs ago, I used to smoke hookah 3 yrs ago, I used to vape. I quit vaping 6 months ago. I found a study where they took biopsies from smokers and vapers and compared… found round 300 different proteins expressions in both groups. The only difference was in proteins, they were different. I don’t think that inhaling chemicals could be any less harmful then smoking. We are being manipulated.

  • Steadman

    July 10, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    I Started smoking when I was 17 and I quit back in 2012 and I have not picked up one since then I will be 30 in August I quit because I said to myself I couldn’t see me smoking a cigarette 15 or 20 years from now the first few days after I quit was the hardest but anyone can do it after a few weeks I had dreams that I smoke and woke up terrified thinking that I had but I didn’t it is hard but anyone can do it I had fear of letting myself down thinking that if I cannot overcome smoking something that was hindering what else could I not overcome other than cigarettes that may hinder me and the point I’m making is that motivation and self-control is key for someone who wants to quit after the first two or three months of quitting I had no urge to ever pick up a cigarette again I feel healthier and happier hope all well

  • Linda LaBossiere Barger

    July 10, 2018 at 6:25 pm

    I was recently diagnosed with COPD. The doctor said “It looked like I had smoked all my life. I am still am not sure that it is not Black Lung as I worked at a coal power plant for years.” I was around asbestos, coal dirt and arsnic. I pray that I can get well or that it does not get any worse. I hope to get proper treatment to get whatever it is under control. The doctor said “It was COPD, but the final report has not come back yet from Martinsberg, West Virginia.

    • Sherry Foley

      February 22, 2020 at 4:48 pm

      Get tested for Alpha-1 Antitripsyn Deficiency. It’s a rare genetic lung disease. It starts out with COPD. If you get ahold of the Alpha-1 Foundation. They will send you an at home test for free. I have it. I need a lung transplant. Please get a hold of them. God bless you!

  • Darius Murk

    July 4, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    It’s just like any quick-fix, the short-term is nice but deep down you know that one day you’re going to die to a disease related to smoking, and trust me, you’re not special. 25% of all smokers get lung cancer in Europe, and 90% of all lung-related issues are usually because of smoking. I’ve been smoking heavily, ciggarettes and marihuana, for the past 7 years, and finally have quit. It was very hard, but I lay in bed all day not talking to anyone, until I finally met up with some smoker-friends and the smoke smelled absolutely disgusting. It’s not worth it, I hope I didnt damage my body too much. Even if you think you have, or have smoked for longer than 20years, don’t stress about it, just quit right now or accept that one day you’ll think to yourself ” I wish I quit all those times I still could ”

    Good luck!!

  • Andy scott

    June 15, 2018 at 12:46 pm

    Ive smoked for 30yrs.6mths ago i decided id had enough and just was hard for couple days but after that i was amazed how easily ive done it.wish i had yrs ago.i think if you want something bad enough you will beat it.good luck

  • Stephanie Sorensen

    June 12, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    For anyone that comes across this post. I smoked for 35 years its bern 5 days now with NO CIGARETTES but Im using the vapor cig when I have a craving it seems to help a lot..just dont inhale it as much asca cigarette..anyways 3 of my closest friends are smokers one died from Esophageal cancer, one is currently being treated for COPD ,and another one just died from lung disease emphysema he also lost a leg and could not walk atvsll had to have oxygen 24 7..It is so,so sad…and scared me a lot..cigs are horrible hard habit to kick..DONT START SMOKING

    • Pat

      June 16, 2018 at 10:45 pm

      Good luck. You can do it.
      Also try Nicorret spray.
      Helps with the panic attacks.
      I’m 6 months free and it can be done.

      Ex 30 year smoker

  • Rowen

    June 10, 2018 at 6:29 am

    My ex boyfriend is 15 and coughing up black sliva I’m 14 and I don’t know how to help him he been a heavy smoker for the past 2 years he’s also a heavy drinker he said that he has a lung infection and organ failure I don’t know what to do to stop him from dieing.

  • Louise

    March 13, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    The black lungs scare me…how can I help them .

  • Mandi

    March 8, 2018 at 11:04 pm

    I’ve quit smoking for 3 weeks now, I was a secret smoker, and could go without if with my family or partner who doesn’t smoke, My cough has gone and I am determined to live a long life, I don’t want my children and grandchildren to suffer a loss, that could have been prevented. I have a mantra which I say everyday to myself 3 times over, if you do this your brain will listen.

  • Edmund

    March 4, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    Last week on my way to work I decided that I wasn’t going to buy anymore cigarettes with no planning at all. Day 2 of not smoking seems like it was the worst (at least I hope) there was times my face felt flushed,I broke out in sweats and my mind would try to convince me it is ok to just have one. It is extremely difficult to get through and you will go crazy but through my cravings I just kept telling myself how I want to be able to breath

  • emma

    January 10, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    does vaping still stop tar from ridding your body?


    December 26, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    What r the ways to clean the bronchioles sir??

    • Js

      January 1, 2018 at 5:10 am

      Honey, eat honey and place honey in tea and water. Nothing you can do because the damage is forever. Depending on how bad and how long you had smoked all anyone will tell you is that quitting now is the best and most likely of gaining at least 3 years back to your life. Honey is not a cure but it works to clean your lungs by helping you cough.

    • James

      January 9, 2018 at 5:18 pm

      Drinking lots of water

  • Shrey

    November 18, 2017 at 4:20 am

    How much time does is take to remove tar stored frm ganja(marijuana)

  • Karen Cossu

    November 6, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    very good

  • Dil nawaz khan

    October 17, 2017 at 6:20 am

    I really want to stop smoking but how just help me someone to stop smoking please I was trying many time and I promise myself I will not smoke anymore but I can’t do it please save my life and help me stop smoking I am married I have to kids and I want to stay longer with them

    • Meet

      January 12, 2018 at 10:25 pm

      Just think about your family rather than smoking cigrattes if you wanna smoke. Then start vaping there is no nicotine . Dont touch cig from tomorrow whenever you feel like smoking a cig. Just divert your mind elsewhere and start exercising.

      • ColdTurkey

        July 25, 2018 at 1:02 am

        Cold turkey, then exercise, is the best way, endorphins released by the body during gym session can do wonders. The body feels renewed, and you will think less and less about this nasty little stick…Switch mind sets, and hit the gym, and avoid all the triggers for a while. 20 days later, physical cravings are gone, and it’s all mental now, just keep training. Change your reward system, switch to dark chocolate for example if you don’t have any health issues with chocolate. A side note, don’t feel guilty about the past, you did what you did, maybe you enjoyed it, OK, now time to move on, a new chapter with a clean and strong body. Good luck to everyone!

    • John dudley

      June 4, 2018 at 6:17 pm

      Use chantex. It works but you have to want to quite

      • Robert Skinner

        July 15, 2018 at 1:46 pm

        Did you have side effects from the chantex?

    • Amar

      June 7, 2018 at 4:28 pm

      Bro Start smoking weed.
      You might get Skinny but won’t die yet.

    • Shalako Duff

      June 16, 2018 at 1:53 pm

      Look the best thing some one ever told me to do was go to Colorado don’t buy any cigarettes for 3 or 4 months just pot after that 30 more days the pot will be out of your system ask a friend to smoke a cigarette near you after this I guarantee you will or almost vomit from just the smell you will never want one again

    • Pat

      June 16, 2018 at 10:42 pm

      30 year smoker quit 6 months ago. It can be done. I was exactly like you. Scared didn’t want to say goodbye to my dark friend. Feels like cutting off a limb.
      You can do it.
      I used champix for the first month
      Also used Nicolette spray for the panic attacks and the Nicolette mints. It’s all helps. But you have to keep busy. Find distractions. Wants a smoke. Go brush your teeth, vacuum. Distract distract distract. The desire to smoke doesn’t go away but becomes manageable and far less intense. And your confidence grows daily when you hit goals. I use an app to calculate how much money I’ve saved, days without smoking and cigarettes NOT smoked. Take it day by day. To date I havent smoked 3432 cigarettes

      • Kandi M Barnes

        July 5, 2018 at 10:20 am

        14-year smoker here. This is very encouraging. I’m at the fear of quitting phase (feel like I’m losing a friend). Wonderful advice. My only child is getting married and I definitely want to be around and be healthy for my grandkids. Continued success to you.

        • Elaine

          July 6, 2018 at 3:09 pm

          I smoked 35 years, a little more than a pack a day. Was ready to quit so I asked my doctor about Chantix. Decided on a quit date and started taking the Chantix. The first pill made me sick to my stomach even when eating before taking the medication so I cut it in half but still got sick. Started cutting the pill into thirds and that seemed to work for me. I smoked for the first week while taking the pill but each day I wanted fewer and fewer cigs. I continued taking a third of the pill for 3 months, just to make sure I wasn’t going to relapse. The only other side effect I had was vivid dreams but not so bad they bothered me or woke me up out of a dead sleep. Cravings would happen all the way up to my first year but would only last a few minutes, then they stopped or I didn’t notice them anymore. I have been smoke free now for 71/2 years. If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them for you if I can. One other thing. Don’t replace your cigs with food. Buy sugar free or low carb candy and snacks to help with not gaining a lot of weight.

        • Toms

          July 10, 2018 at 7:19 pm

          I started smoking when I was 17 back in 2005 I quit in 2012 I haven’t picked up a cigarette since then and I’ll be 30 in August best way I quit is telling myself I can’t see myself in the next 15 or 20 years with a cigarette in my hand the first few days was the hardest but you can do it as for anyone once I quit the first day I never picked up a cigarette again. After the first couple weeks I started dreaming that I was smoking a cigarette and I woke up terrified that I thought I had smoke one but I really didn’t Following that dream I could never even think that I would pick up a cigarette again and I also had fear of letting myself down if I couldn’t quit cigarettes something that was hindering me what else could I not overcome other than cigarettes point I’m making is self motivation in control is key when deciding to quit after after about 2 or 3 months I have no urge of ever picking up a cigarette again i feel healthier and happier hope you well

    • Lynn

      June 19, 2018 at 11:55 am

      Number you really have to want to, I started taking the chantix and it is really helping me, the urge does come for a cig but it’s not overwhelming like in the past when I tried to quit. I’m on my 3rd day without smoking and I’m doing ok so far.

    • Jon jerimiah

      July 10, 2018 at 7:10 pm

      Get nicotine gum and try that. If that doesn’t work go to your doctor and get a prescription for this pill called chantix. It helps to stop the cravings.
      If you get the nicotine gum make sure that you read the instructions on how to use it.

      I smoked for 20 years. I quit 20 years ago. I used the nicotine gum. I chewed the nicotine gum for about 5 years then I finally got off of it. I have never gone back to smoking.

      Dont vape it’s bad for you too.

    • Tara

      July 16, 2018 at 2:10 pm

      I am a 24 year smoker. I quit 4 days ago and started vaping. I am a die hard smoker, I love to smoke, i was born with it in my hand almost. Since i started vaping 4 days ago I don’t miss smoking. I tried a regular one yesterday and after one drag I put it out because it was gross. Go to a Vape shop and ask thrm to set you up. Youcan start with niccotine and slowly wean yourself off of it.

    • Mike-Andres Almonte

      July 17, 2018 at 9:01 am

      I need help too let’s help each other stop smoking I got 2 kids and I’m 32 years old I want to stop smoking

    • bobby

      July 20, 2018 at 5:48 pm

      go on a born again trip by one of the many tribes in south america, its proven that they can even make heroine addicts physically and chemically change to never want to do it again (not just heroine in specific, anything) i suggest looking up a healing retreat that includes ayahuasca


      September 22, 2018 at 10:24 am

      Please buy and read the book EasyWay to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr. His method has a 90% success rate. I read and haven’t smoked for 15 days now, and it hasn’t been too hard to not smoke.

  • Carole

    October 16, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    My husband says he doesn’t inhale and his lungs are clear. Is that possible?

    • Angie

      April 7, 2018 at 6:31 am

      Hi Carole-my mom always said she didn’t inhale either & she died a few months ago from COPD. I really hope your husband has quit by now,my thoughts & prayers are with you both.

    • Sean

      May 10, 2018 at 8:36 am

      Yes cigar smokers won’t get lung cancer because the don’t inhale but you can still get throat/mouth cancer.

  • Tammy Spoon

    October 16, 2017 at 4:52 am

    Im on the patch to help me stop smoking. The dr said my lungs are black. Im really trying and im scared

    • Michael

      March 17, 2018 at 9:27 am

      Don’t be scared. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. Take your worries to Jesus and picture yourself at the foot of His cross. When Jesus appeared to be at His weakest, it was then we were able to count on Him the most! God said in weakness His power is perfected, so in the appearance and reality of Christ crucified, we were saved by God’s power of love. Every human goes through worries whether sick or healthy, and everyone must die whether sick or healthy. Trust in Jesus! He loves you and is there to comfort us until we are with Him in Heaven! I am praying for you just as I pray for myself. I know the regret of weakness and sin, but I also know the grace and mercy of Jesus. A grace and mercy that gives all who seek Him a peace that surpasses all our fears and regrets.

    • Laila

      June 26, 2018 at 6:32 pm

      How many years did you smoke?

      • Warren Roy Luttrell

        September 25, 2018 at 6:02 pm

        50 years