Smoking Effects: Singing a Different Tune

Musicians and vocalists must ensure their most valuable asset is protected. Smoking carries a high risk of nerve damage, throat cancer, and cancer of the esophagus.

singer smoking while singing

The health consequences of tobacco use cannot be denied. Heart disease, stroke, COPD, and lung cancer are all known effects of smoking cigarettes. These risks affect all musicians. Smoking in venues exposes musicians to the dangers of second-hand smoke. This is especially true for singers. Many do not consider how smoking may affect their voices. Cigarette smoke can cause irreversible damage to the lungs and vocal cords, both of which are needed to speak or sing. For anyone, this is an inconvenience. It is necessary to speak clearly on a day to day basis. For those who sing for pleasure or professionally, loss of vocal range can be detrimental.

How Does Smoking Affect Musicians?

For singers, tobacco use can have an impact on the voice in a number of ways, some of which are easier to overcome than others. For other musicians, smoking can harm the nerves they rely on to play their instruments, everyday speech, singing harmony and backup. Smoking and constant exposure to second-hand smoke carries high risks for vocal damage, as well as weakening the ear drums.

Vocal cord irritation

Tobacco smoke irritates and dries the vocal cords, causing them to swell and preventing them from working properly. Over time, this can make the voice sound hoarse or raspy. It used to be assumed that so long as a person didn’t speak or sing while smoking; the vocal cords could avoid damage. This has since been shown to be untrue, as smoke still has to pass over the vocal folds when entering and exiting the esophagus.

Mucus production

As the vocal cords become more irritated, the body will produce excessive mucus to try and heal them. This causes the need to clear one’s throat often – something which cannot be done when performing on stage. Mucus in the throat can lead to reduced voice quality, especially when it can’t be cleared away during a performance. This excess in mucus production maintains its presence in everyday life. This hindrance is the same for all musicians who have succumbed to second-hand smoke exposure, as well.

Lung damage

Singers know that the vocal cords are only part of the story when it comes to voice quality. The lungs and diaphragm are also vital to producing a quality sound. Lung power and proper air control are needed to hit and sustain certain notes, especially in an upper range. Smoking reduces lung function, which can directly affect a singer’s ability to hold, or even hit, certain notes. Becoming winded on stage doesn’t make a very good impression. Aside from Singers, every musician on stage is at risk for lung damage. The constant exposure to second-hand smoke leaves each individual with the same risk for disease and cancers.

Throat cancer

One of the more severe smoking consequences is throat cancer. This can also be caused by chewing tobacco, so smokeless tobacco is not a safer option for singers. Throat cancer can include cancer of the vocal cords. This sometimes results in their removal altogether, resulting in loss of voice function. According to the Mayo Clinic, tobacco use is a major risk factor for throat cancers. For singers and other musicians who do not smoke, repeated appearances at venues that allow smoking exposes them to the same level of risk.

Myths About Smoking and Singing

Many singers who smoke like the fact that smoking allows their voices to retain a deeper or raspier sound than they had originally. While this may be true while speaking, smoking does not lead to a lower singing range. According to Singwise, being able to sing in a lower range is due to the shape of the vocal cords, not whether or not the singer smokes. Furthermore, smoking will reduce singing quality over time.

Avoiding Voice and Lung Damage

The only true way to avoid damage to the vocal cords is to stop smoking entirely. Even exposure to second-hand smoke can cause some damage to the throat and lungs, so discontinuing this exposure altogether is important. For musicians, this may be difficult to achieve. However, many venues are banning smoking from their premises. Musicians can help this endeavor by coming together and speaking out,aiding more venues in becoming smoke-free. For those who do smoke, and are having trouble quitting, there is help available. Prescription medications, nicotine replacement therapies, tools which may help singers kick the habit before irreparable damage is done.

More Information

For more motivation to quit smoking once and for all, visit The Real Cost of Smoking.

Read more about the effects cigarette smoke has on the human body at The Effects of Smoking.

Learn more about smoking:

Nicotine Dependence and Freedom

• How to Inspire a Smoker to Quit

• Secondhand Smoke: Think Twice

Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey

Published: March 1, 2015 Updated: February 12, 2019



Leave a comment

18 comments on “Smoking Effects: Singing a Different Tune
  • randy webb
    December 5, 2016 at 1:42 am

    Smoke does not touch your vocal chords. Vocal chords are only accessible when speaking.

    • Generic Commenter
      December 30, 2016 at 7:15 am

      Sorry Randy, but you couldn’t be more wrong on this. Review any anatomy diagrams easily available online. Your vocal cords are located just above the trachea, which carries air to your lungs. When you inhale air (or smoke) it travels through the vocal cords on its way the the trachea and your lungs.

      • randy webb
        December 30, 2016 at 7:22 am

        They are protected by your vocal folds when not speaking, Sorry.

        • Generic Commenter
          February 2, 2017 at 3:12 am

          Randy I’m a physician, and I’ve dissected the human body from head to toe. Trust me on this one.

          Besides, if air (or smoke) doesn’t touch the vocal cords when not speaking, how are you able to breathe without talking?

          • Jim Moore
            February 2, 2017 at 3:48 am

            Because air doesn’t hit your chords when you breathe. My wife is a physician for university of Cincinnati medical center. And agrees with me. Vocal chords are not exposed when you’re not speaking, period. Her words.

          • Generic Commenter
            February 2, 2017 at 4:16 am

            With all due respect to your wife, she is simply wrong. The vocal cords relax when not speaking but they do not retract or get covered by anything that would prevent air from touching them. Watch any laryngoscopy video on youtube for proof. Try this one –, which clearly demonstrates that air hits the cords both while producing sound and while simply breathing in between notes. The cords change shape and “tautness”, but they are exposed to the air at all times.

          • Jim Moore
            February 2, 2017 at 7:18 am

            When producing sound .

          • Jim Moore
            February 2, 2017 at 7:21 am

            If exposed to air at all Times Your chords would be in constant state of dehydration

          • Bernadette Mether
            March 16, 2017 at 10:45 am

            Really? The vocal folds are the gate way to your lungs and in fact, singing and speaking are a secondary evolutionary function.

        • Bernadette Mether
          March 16, 2017 at 10:43 am

          There are false vocal folds next to your real vocal folds if that’s what your referring to. These false vocal folds are fully retracted – which is required for healthy singing BTW, when you giggle and sob. Liquid isn’t supposed to reach your true vocal folds (AKA vocal cords) but it does when you are drowning or when you’ve swallowed your food/water the wrong way – this is why you cough to expel the foreign matter before it reaches your lungs. HOWEVER, the only way to hydrate your vocal folds directly is through steam inhalation (ask any ENT or speech pathologist). When you smoke – are you not inhaling it? Seriously?

    • Bernadette Mether
      March 16, 2017 at 10:33 am

      If you can inhale it, it absolutely touches your vocal folds (Chords). They sit at the top of your windpipe (trachea) and open when inhaling and close when exhaling (breathing or vocalising). The windpipe is the direct line into your lungs. So if the smoke doesn’t reach your lungs then you’re probably right.

    • Akho
      September 3, 2018 at 12:07 am

      Hi Randy, i agreed with what “Generic Commenter” had replied you back. The reasons why it is so is because I am one the singers who stays singing on the stage occasionally oftenly. And when I had started smoking it flattered my voice and vocal chord, and that I couldn’t hit or reach that vocal pitch which i had hitted before. Beside, it started to ruined up my energetic ranges that make me started to shiver alike I am going to faint with my throat swelling up to cough during the midst of my singing, and I couldn’t sing any long ranged songs anymore with my original voice. But, the moment I had quit smoking, after some fews days and weeks i get back into what and how my voice had been before during those days when I don’t smoke.

  • Bernadette Mether
    March 16, 2017 at 11:02 am

    Hi, I just a question for suitably qualified people.
    I have an adult singing student who has almost succeeded in quitting smoking completely.
    Prior to this, his pitch was often inaccurate.
    Since his quitting (well almost) his pitch accuracy is much more reliable – notably so.
    Is this a common benefit?
    I have just been reading articles relating hearing impairment to smoking.
    Is it a combination of this , the lessening of vocal oedema, better lung capacity and experiencing less phlegm that accounts for his better pitch accuracy?
    I’d love to hear from suitably qualified people.

  • pankaj premi
    November 27, 2017 at 9:45 am

    i quit the smoking a few days i should do to continue the music by after how many days

  • Andrea
    February 22, 2018 at 3:29 am

    What is the effect of smoking to a singer?
    I what way?
    Can you hear it from the singer’s voice? or not?
    Please answer me because I want to help my friend singer

    • Christina
      May 31, 2018 at 2:41 pm

      I am a singer, but not professionally trained. I smoked for decades & I started noticing that my vocal range was decreasing, my voice sounded more raspy & further down the line my voice would actually fail to hit a note completely while singing, sounding as if I were pausing for a second during the song. I tried many times to quit & could only stop for a couple of months each time. The various products IE. Nicotine patches, gum, pills did nothing for me. Finally , I am smoke free after 40 years of on & off smoking. Some people may not believe in the power of the almighty Yahuah of heaven, but he answered my prayers. 1 day I was smoking a pack/ day & the next day I wasn’t. I do occasionally use an ECigarette, but I don’t need it. However, I urge any singers out there to either not start smoking or to quit ASAP. It has a horrible effect on the voice. I don’t have the ability to sing anymore, my voice sounds out of tune & my pitch is bad. Maybe some of these effects may improve over time,but i don’t know. Don’t end up like me, & lose such a precious gift. Tell your friend she will live to regret ever smoking, for this & many other health reasons. If your friend loves to sing , tell her cigarettes are an enemy to a healthy , beautiful voice.

  • Andrea
    February 22, 2018 at 3:30 am

    I want him to stop

  • Titia
    August 14, 2018 at 10:22 am

    Hi I’m new here from the Netherlands. What is needed to reach the right pitch? Good ears, healthy lungs and support while singing, healthy vocal cords (practice everyday from low voice to as high as you can get (not too long), smoking could damage your vocal cords but also a reflux which could cause more damage than smoking. Take something like omeprazol in that case. I know quite a few opera singers that smoke and often surprised that they can still sing but their lung capacity is bad.