How Smoking Impacts Your Lung Health [Video]

See how smoking wreaks havoc on lung health by comparing the lungs of a healthy nonsmoker versus those of a smoker. This video shows the damage smoking causes to healthy lungs—and explains how much of it can be reversed by quitting smoking. Learn more about the American Lung Association’s proven effective Freedom From Smoking program.

Welcome to our demonstration: The Effects of Smoking on Lung Health. I'm Jennifer Hobbs Folkenroth, Freedom From Smoking Master Trainer with the American Lung Association.

Today, I'll show you the impact smoking has on lung health. We will be comparing a nonsmoker's lung with a smoker's lung.

The first thing you're going to see is the healthy pink color--exactly the way it should look. Your lung has two sides: the right side of the lung and the left side of the lung. The right side is larger, and includes three different lobes. The left side, just a little bit smaller, with two lobes.

Let's take a moment and see what it looks like when a healthy nonsmoker's lung takes in a breath. When you breath, you have millions of little air sacs in the lung called alveoli. These little air sacs fill up with vital oxygen to carry it through the bloodstream, throughout the body, and deliver it to your various organs.

This is a very healthy nonsmoker. The size, the shape, the function is exactly what it should be. Now I'd like to take a moment and compare this to a smoker's lung.

What's the first difference that you notice between these two? The color. So the smoker's lung, as you can see, has a blackened color. It's not that healthy pink glow of that of the nonsmoker.

Why the black color? It's all about the tar. At one pack per day, in one year, one full cup of tar is filtered throughout your lungs. Multiply that by how many years you've smoked--let's say, one pack per day times 20 years. Now you've had 20 full cups of tar that have filtered through your lungs.

Now we'll take a moment and see what it looks like when the smoker breathes. What's the next difference that you see in comparison? This lower portion here. So the lower right portion of this lung is no longer taking in any vital oxygen for the body. It has completely been shut off due to the damage from all of the tar, as well as over 7,000 chemicals and toxic poisons from cigarette smoke.

Another difference? You may notice this tumor. This is an example of lung cancer. Now you will see that it is pretty centralized in its location.

I've been asked a really great question over the years from various patients: They'd say, "Jen, why can't you just go into surgery and have that cut out and be cleared? The problem? In more than 87% of cases, by the time lung cancer is diagnosed it's already spread throughout the body.

Another difference you may see is how abnormal this other lobe is. So in fact, the left lung should be smaller than the right. However, in this instance it is larger. The reason? It is trying to make up for the areas that have been lost due to the smoking on the right portion of the lung.

Now we'll take a moment and compare the two. So I'm going to pump both the nonsmoker's lung as well as the smoker's lung.

Now just imagine: walking from your car to the grocery store; walking up a flight of stairs; doing simple day-to-day activities. Imagine doing those with a healthy nonsmoker's lung. Doing those same activities is much more strenuous and challenging with the smoker's lung.

Another thing I would like to show you: in the smoker's lung there are these little porous holes. Those are where those air sacs we talked about earlier have now burst open. With each puff you take off of a cigarette, you pop those air sacs. And unfortunately, that's the only tobacco-related illness that's not reversible. It's called emphysema. Think about it: at eight to ten puffs per cigarette, you're popping up to 200 air sacs in a day at one pack per day.

The good news? Everything else is reversible once you quit. You can clean out the rest of that tar. You can improve your lung function up to 30% just in the first few weeks.

What's important to know? It's never too late to quit. The American Lung Association firmly believes every tobacco user can quit. We know it's not easy, and that's why the Lung Association is here to provide you with the support and resources to obtain and maintain a tobacco-free lifestyle.

The American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking is a proven effective smoking cessation clinic program which has successfully helped smokers quit for more than 40 years. It also boasts a 57% quit rate at six months when used in combination with a quit-smoking medication and is ranked most effective smoking cessation program in a study by Fordham University Graduate School of Business.

Freedom From Smoking is offered in a variety of different options, including in-person group cessation clinics, online, over the phone, and through a simple, step-by-step self-help guide.

To learn more about the American Lung Association's programs available to help you quit,
or for more information on how you can be trained to support others in leading tobacco-free lifestyles, please visit our web site at or call us at 1-800-LUNG-USA.

On behalf of the American Lung Association, thank you for your dedication to leading a tobacco-free life.

Page last updated: May 31, 2023

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