Summary

  • Second-hand smoke is a trigger for people with asthma.
  • People who smoke and who have asthma have worse asthma control and faster loss of lung function.
  • Women who smoke during pregnancy are harming the development of their baby’s lungs.
  • If you have asthma, avoid smoky places whenever possible.
People with asthma have sensitive airways inside their lungs. Certain ‘triggers’ can make these airways narrow.

If you have asthma, smoking can lead to more asthma symptoms, more frequent asthma attacks, worse asthma control and less benefit from some asthma medications. Smoking also damages your airways, leading to inflammation and faster loss of lung function.

Stopping smoking may reduce asthma symptoms and use of asthma medication within a few months.

Asthma and smoking – damage to airways


Your lungs are lined by tiny hairs called cilia. These move in a wave-like motion to sweep dust, pollens and other irritants out of your lungs. Cigarette smoke damages these tiny hairs.

This means your lungs will be less able to clean themselves, which can lead to mucus and toxic substances collecting in the lungs, increasing the risk of lung disease. Smoking can also damage the small airways and air sacs within the lungs, causing emphysema.

Asthma and passive smoking


Breathing in other people’s cigarette smoke can also be harmful to a person with asthma, especially children. Second-hand cigarette smoke can:
  • Trigger an asthma attack
  • Increase the frequency of asthma attacks
  • Increase your need for asthma medication
  • Make your airways more sensitive to other triggers like pollen
  • Reduce your lung function.

Asthma and smoking during pregnancy


If a woman smokes when she is pregnant, the chemicals in the cigarette smoke are passed to the developing baby through the umbilical cord. The baby’s lungs can be affected, which increases the baby’s risk of developing wheezing symptoms early in life.

Smoking during pregnancy also causes many other problems, such as low birth weight and premature labour, and increases the risk of fetal death and stillbirth.

Asthma and smoking around children


Children exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to develop asthma in childhood. Children with asthma who live in a smoky environment have more severe symptoms, suffer more frequent asthma attacks and are more likely to use asthma medications.

Children of people who smoke are more likely to develop chest infections and other illnesses. Viral chest infections in infancy increase the risk of developing asthma in childhood, especially among infants who are sensitised to allergens.

In Victoria, it is illegal to smoke in cars carrying children who are under 18 years of age.

Asthma and smoking – reducing risk


You can reduce the risk of worsening your asthma by avoiding cigarette smoke. Some suggestions include:
  • Quit smoking.
  • Make your home completely smoke free – ask guests not to smoke in your house.
  • Avoid smoky places, such as outdoor areas of pubs, bars and cafes.

Asthma and smoking – when you can’t avoid smoky places


If you can’t always keep away from smoky places, it is important to manage your asthma on a daily basis. If you need to take your reliever medication more than three or four times a week (excluding ‘before exercise’ medication), you should visit your doctor. Your asthma management plan might need to be adjusted.

Remember to take your reliever medication with you when you visit a smoky place.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Your local pharmacy
  • Asthma Victoria Tel. (03) 9326 7088
  • Quitline Tel. 13 7848

Things to remember

  • Second-hand smoke is a trigger for people with asthma.
  • People who smoke and who have asthma have worse asthma control and faster loss of lung function.
  • Women who smoke during pregnancy are harming the development of their baby’s lungs.
  • If you have asthma, avoid smoky places whenever possible.
References
  • Asthma in Australia 2005 , 2005, Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring, Australian Institute for Health and Welfare. AIHW Asthma Series no. 2. Cat. no. ACM 6. More information here.
  • Asthma in Australia 2011: with a focus chapter on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease , 2011, Australian Centre for Asthma Monitoring, Australian Institute for Health and Welfare. AIHW Asthma Series no. 4. Cat. no. ACM 22. More information here.
  • Proposed identification of environmental tobacco smoke as a toxic air contaminant: Part B – Health effects , 2005, California Environmental Protection Agency, Air Resources Board, and Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. More information here.
  • Tonnesen P, Pisinger C, Hvidberg S et al, 2005, ‘Effects of smoking cessation and reduction in asthmatics’, Nicotine Tobacco Research , vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 139–148. More information here.
  • Ulrik CS, Lange P, 2001, ‘Cigarette smoking and asthma’, Monaldi Archives for Chest Disease , vol. 56, no. 4, pp. 349–353. More information here.
  • The health consequences of smoking: a report of the Surgeon General , 2004, US 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. More information here.
  • The health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke: a report of the Surgeon General , 2006, US 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. More information here.
  • Sly PD, Kusel M, and Holt PG, 2010 ‘Do early-life viral infections cause asthma?’ The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 125, no. 6, pp.1202–1205. More information here.

More information

Asthma

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Last updated: September 2014

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.