Smoking’s long-term impact on one’s immune system

Smoking's unknown long-term effects

Image of a woman smoking. Credit: Image Point Fr/

Recent studies have proved more than ever that lifestyle choices cast long shadows over one’s health? 

A ground-breaking study published on Wednesday, February 14, featured in the journal Nature provided substantial insights into how smoking significantly damages our immune system, revealing that its effects linger long after smokers quit the habit.

Conducted by an international team from France, Sweden, and the United States, the research delved into the impact of environmental factors on immunity among 1,000 healthy volunteers aged between 20 and 70, spanning five decades.

The study’s methodology

Researchers examined how 136 environmental factors influenced the immune response, focusing on cytokine production—a key player in immune system regulation.

They discovered that smoking had the most detrimental effect on both innate and adaptive immunity aspects.

Smoking and immune system damage

Violaine Saint-Andre, from the Pasteur Institute in Paris, highlighted smoking’s dual impact: it disrupts both the body’s natural defence mechanisms and its ability to produce specific antibodies against threats.

It affects ‘innate or natural’ immunity, which is the body’s congenital ability to destroy any type of potentially harmful microorganism.

It also modifies the so-called ‘adaptive’ immunity (mediated by lymphocytes) that produces specific antibodies against each threat.

Remarkably, while innate immunity recovers after quitting, the damage to adaptive immunity persists for up to 10 to 15 years. This correlation between smoking duration and quantity highlights the lasting effects of tobacco on adaptive immunity.

Lasting effects and health implications

This study sheds light on the persistent alterations in immune response among former smokers. ‘If a person stops smoking, they recover well the part of the innate immunity, but not the adaptive immunity.

This indicates that the immune system has a memory of having smoked persistently, which has an important implication for smokers,’ said Africa Gonzalez-Fernandez, a professor of Immunology at the University of Vigo.

Moreover, the research underscores the heightened risk of autoimmune diseases, allergies, and cancer in the long term due to smoking-related immune system alterations.

This pivotal research not only highlights smoking’s profound and lasting impact on immune health but also contributes to a deeper understanding of the risks associated with infections and immune-related diseases, including cancer.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.