Short answer: Yes. People with asthma are physically capable of smoking.
Long answer: No.
Smoking – or even just spending time with people while they smoke – can bring on asthma
symptoms in the best cases and asthma attacks in the worst cases.
If you want to lower your risk of an asthma attack and control your asthma properly, it’s
important to quit smoking (or even better: not start smoking in the first place). If your child
has asthma, making your house a smoke-free zone will have a big impact on their
In most developed countries ∼25% of adults with asthma are current cigarette smokers.
Asthma and active cigarette smoking interact to cause more severe symptoms,
accelerated decline in lung function, and impaired short-term therapeutic response to
corticosteroids. – European Respiratory Journal, “Asthma and Cigarette Smoking”.
Asthma Quick Facts
Right now, there around 5.4 million people in the UK living with asthma, meaning asthma
affects one out of every five households and one in 11 people. Before we go into detail
about smoking, here are some asthma quick facts:
1. Asthma attacks can happen when someone’s airways become inflamed or swollen
by an irritant.
2. Asthma attacks have symptoms like shortness of breath, tightness or pain in the
chest, difficulty breathing and coughing.
3. One of the most common asthma triggers is cigarette smoke.
4. Asthma attacks can be life-threatening in serious cases.
5. When asthma flares up, the airways are filled with mucus and the muscles around
them contract, which narrows the bronchial tubes and makes it difficult for the
lungs to breathe air in and out.
Why Does Tobacco Smoke Trigger Asthma?
Even if you’re not the one smoking, coming into contact with someone who is smoking can
quickly bring on your asthma symptoms. When you smoke a cigarette or breathe in
someone else’s smoke, you’re pulling that smoke directly into your lungs. Carbon monoxide
is just one of over 4,000 chemicals hidden in tobacco smoke. This is a chemical that makes
it really difficult for your body to circulate oxygen.
This means that if you’re a smoker or spend a lot of time around people who smoke, you’re
going to have more asthma symptoms and need a larger number of medicines to keep
these symptoms under control.
Your airways and lungs are inflamed and irritated by the chemicals in cigarette smoke. This
could potentially worsen your symptoms and put you at risk of an asthma attack.
Cigarette smoking has special meaning for persons with asthma. In asthma, allergic
inflammation of the bronchial tubes causes mucus production, leading to cough and
phlegm. In long-term cigarette smokers, chronic inhalation of smoke from burning
tobacco leaves also stimulates the mucous glands in the bronchial tubes to make excess
mucus, giving rise to daily cough with phlegm.– Partners Healthcare, “Breath of Fresh
Experiencing an asthma flare-up when your lungs are damaged can be really serious. When
you smoke a cigarette, you damage your lungs and reduce the number and functionality of
your cilia, the hair-like structures inside your lungs. These structures are designed to clear
the mucus in your lungs, but are unable to carry out this function when damaged.
Smoking can also reduce the effectiveness of some of the short-term treatments used for
mild asthma. If you’re a smoker, make sure you talk to your doctor about the effectiveness
of your asthma medication.
The good news is that your lungs will begin to function better between two weeks and
three months after giving up smoking.
Smoking and Pregnancy
If you smoke while pregnant, it can increase the likelihood of giving birth to a child with
asthma. Smoking can also increase the chances of birth defects, infant death and
premature birth. The European Respiratory Society has described smoking as the most
important known modifiable risk factor for asthma, because the best thing a mother can
do to stop her baby from developing asthma is to avoid smoking while pregnant.
Does Vaping Trigger Asthma?
E-cigarettes may not fill your lungs with all of that carbon monoxide-rich smoke, but they
do deliver nicotine to your body. Many people believe that vaping (using e-cigarettes) is a
safe smoking alternative for people with asthma. However, nicotine is a highly addictive
drug that raises your heart rate and blood pressure, and is even toxic in high doses.
Researchers have come to the conclusion that the “smoke” from an e-cigarette is still
harmful, both to the person vaping and those around them.
How Do I Avoid Smoke?
There are a number of things you can do to avoid tobacco smoke. These include…
❏ Giving up smoking. Talk to your health care provider for advice on quitting. This
isn’t an easy thing to do, but there are loads of great methods and organisations out
there to help you. If any of your family members smoke, explain the dangers of
smoking and ask them to quit with you.
❏ Don’t let anyone smoke around your child or yourself.
❏ Try not to spend any time in public places that allow smoking.
❏ Don’t let anyone smoke in your car or house.
How Do I Give up Smoking?
❏ Talk to your doctor about giving up smoking. Ask them to help you pick a day for
quitting, and start preparing for that time.
❏ Try to avoid any situations that might make you want to smoke – e.g. If you always
smoke when you’re at the pub, try inviting your friends to your place instead.
❏ Don’t let anyone smoke in your house.
❏ Take your mind off smoking by getting active. Read a book, or take up running.
❏ Ask your doctor about the nicotine replacement aids – such as patches and gum –
that are available today.
❏ Find yourself a smoking cessation class or support group.
❏ Try chewing gum when you feel like you need to smoke, or keep healthy snack foods
like carrot sticks handy.
❏ If you get the urge to smoke, try breathing in deeply and holding your breath for
❏ Get rid of all of your lighters, ashtrays and tobacco.
For more information about asthma, check out Need2Know’s Essential Guide to
Asthma which discusses the diagnosis and symptoms of asthma and looks at how it
affects all age groups. Understanding asthma is the key to gaining control of its
symptoms and enjoying your life more fully, without needing to smoke!