6 Unexpected Side Effects of Smoking

Cigarettes affect your health and appearance in surprising ways.

Medically reviewed in September 2021

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We know smoking affects our lungs, but cigarette smoking can take a toll on the rest of the body, too. In addition to an increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease, smoking also causes yellowing teeth and nails, premature wrinkling and can even lead to early menopause.

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Discolored Teeth

Discolored teeth are not an unknown side effect of cigarette smoking. In fact, one study suggests many smokers are unhappy with the color of their teeth, compared with a much smaller portion of non-smokers. Nicotine in tobacco is colorless until it’s mixed with oxygen; once the chemical meets the air, it turns yellow, leaving stains on a smoker’s teeth. Nicotine isn’t the only substance that can cause staining in cigarettes—tar also tarnishes teeth.

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Yellow Skin And Nails

Smoking can harm your complexion, causing dull, dry and grey skin. Cigarette smoking is also linked to adult acne and premature wrinkling. The skin on your face isn’t the only area that’s affected—the skin on your hands and your nails are also harmed each time you reach for your pack. The tar in cigarettes collects on your hands and under your fingernails, causing yellowing.

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Erectile Dysfunction

Smoking may have a greater impact on your sex life than you thought. Smoking causes weakened erections and even erectile dysfunction. In order for a man to sustain an erection, blood must be able to reach and fill the penis; chemicals found in cigarettes can damage the lining of blood vessels and cause arteries to harden, both of which decrease the body’s ability to pump blood to the penis. Plus, men that smoke more frequently or for longer periods of time—say, 10 years—may appear smaller when erect. Talk about a downer.

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Early Menopause

Menopause marks the end for a woman’s reproductive years. The average age of menopause is 51, but smoking can hasten the onset of menopause. In some cases, heavy smokers experience menopause up to two years earlier than non-smokers. Smokers also have a higher likelihood of experiencing more frequent and more severe hot flashes during menopause.

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If we told you smoking would cause premature wrinkles 10 years from now, would you quit? It’s unlikely. It’s not usually something people think about each time they light up. Wrinkles caused by smoking don’t often develop for a decade (or so) after you begin smoking, but skin damage begins immediately. A smoker will likely experience premature wrinkles on the face and sagging on the inner parts of the arms—an area that is quick to show age. Smoking restricts blood vessels, limiting the amount of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood that’s delivered to your skin. Chemicals in cigarettes also damage collagen and elastin, which can lead to premature sagging.

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Loss Of The Senses

Studies show, smoking can affect your eyesight, sense of taste and your ability to smell. Smoking is also linked to cataracts, which cause blurred vision and macular degeneration, which destroys a person’s central vision and can result in blindness. Smokers are up to three times more likely to develop cataracts and two times more likely to suffer macular degeneration than non-smokers. What’s more, tobacco smoke is a pollutant that blocks scent receptors, leading to a dulled sense of smell. Your sense of smell is heavily connected to your sense of taste, so it’s not surprising that smoking can dull your ability to taste, as well.

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