COPD and Smoking

March 17, 2023
Andrew Gallagher
3 Min Read

COPD and Smoking

Many people including doctors think that COPD is a smokers disease. However, 1 in 4 COPD patients are non-smokers. Smoking increases your risk of getting COPD by about 30%.

The risk of getting COPD goes up even more if you have a family history of the disease.

How smoking affects COPD

After COPD diagnosis many people struggle to quit smoking. This is because many believe that quitting will worsen their symptoms and make their health worse. In fact the opposite is true! Science has shown that stopping smoking can slow the progression of COPD and in most cases even improve patients' quality of life. With continued smoking, the disease gets worse, making everyday tasks like walking difficult. People also experience increased coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and other debilitating symptoms. Treatments are also less effective and it becomes harder to recover.

COPD patients who smoke are also likely to experience more flare ups(periods of worsening symptoms) than those who don't smoke. This can be particularly dangerous for people with COPD who are already at risk of developing an exacerbation, such as those who are obese or have asthma. Smoking has also been associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression in patients with COPD. This can have a devastating impact on a person's ability to cope effectively with their condition. There are also a number of important side effects associated with smoking, which can affect your overall health as well as your ability to breathe properly. These include an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.

Smoking and Stigma

COPD patients often feel they are not treated fairly by physicians due to their smoking and or condition. This can deter people from seeking the help they need and can mean that they do not get appropriate treatment or follow-up care from their doctor. This can lead to further complications in their health and can lead to a poorer quality of life and increased suffering for the person with COPD.

This stigma around smoking also impacts COPD patients personal lives, with many patients feeling stigmatized and judged by others due to their smoking habit. This can negatively affect their mental health, making it even harder to quit smoking. It also leads to an increased fear of social situations involving smoking, which can lead to social isolation and can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and depression in some patients.

Quitting smoking

Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do for your health. It is especially important if you have been diagnosed with COPD. It will not only reduce your risk of getting another smoker related lung infection but also help you manage the symptoms of your condition more effectively.

It is the most important step if you have been diagnosed with COPD. If you have mild COPD and you quit smoking you can stop the progression of the disease. If you already have severe COPD and you have stopped smoking your lung function can improve dramatically and your health will likely greatly improve.

The immediate benefits of quitting smoking include:

  • Reduced breathlessness and improved exercise tolerance
  • Improved circulation and reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced risk of stroke and heart attack
  • Improved lung function
  • Reduced risk of lung cancer
  • Improved mental health

How to quit smoking

There are many different methods to try quit smoking. Different methods work for different people, if you try to quit and it doesn't work, that is OK. You should not feel bad. Many people need to try multiple methods before they are able to successfully quit.

Possible methods include:

  • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
  • Counselling
  • Medication
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Acupuncture


The best starting point would be to talk to your GP, they will be able to advise you on the best course of action, they may also prescribe a medication to help you quit.

After you quit

Whichever method you used to may still have some withdrawal symptoms, these include:

  • Cravings for cigarettes
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors or shaking in your hands and legs
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Coughing or chest tightness

Temporarily, you may even feel worse than when you were smoking. But, if you can stay off cigarettes for 28 days you are 5 times more likely to quit for good.

When you do finally stop smoking:

Now it’s time to act like an ex-smoker. What next?

Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself why you’re quitting.

First, you need to learn to delay the urge. You’ll feel it almost right away. Until the urge fades:

  • Take 10 deep breaths, walk to the sink, pour yourself a glass of ice water, and drink it slowly.
  • Fix a healthy snack. Something that makes your breath and teeth feel fresh is great, such as carrot sticks or a citrus fruit. Or suck on a peppermint.
  • Keep a book with you on a subject you want to learn about. When you feel like you want to smoke, read a few pages while making notes or highlighting passages. Your mind and your hands will be busy.
  • Take out your list of reasons why you’re no longer a smoker and read it to yourself. Out loud if you have to.
  • Call or text a friend or a family member who supports your efforts to quit smoking. You don’t have to talk to them about smoking or quitting. Just hold the phone in your hand instead of a cigarette, and talk about sports, the weather, or your weekend plans until the craving passes.
  • Download a quit smoking app that helps you delay your urges. Some of the apps track how long you’ve been smoke-free and shows you the money you’ve saved. Next time you want a cigarette, check out your riches instead.

When the urge to smoke fades

  • Expect tough moments. The first few days of quitting can be really rocky. Almost all ex-smokers have moments when they doubt that they can do it. Remind yourself often: Nicotine withdrawal gets weaker every day that you don’t smoke. Every time you resist lighting up, you’re one step closer to a smoke-free life.

Even when you’re over the hardest first few weeks, expect to hit some rough patches. There will be times when you’ll really want to light up. But you can get through it. Stick with it, and you’ll be an ex-smoker before you know it.

It can also be very beneficial to join a quit smoking community, there is many on Facebook and Reddit.


If you are a smoker and have COPD, your first action should be quitting, this can really quickly improve your quality of life as well as mental health.


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