Everyday Health

What Happens to Your Body, When You Take a Puff of a Cigarette?

Originally published August 29, 2017

Last updated April 23, 2024

Reading Time: 2 minutes

You may already be familiar with the dangers of smoking, but can one cigarette have an impact on your health?

Smoking continues to be the primary cause of the majority of lung cancer cases, but can smoking just one cigarette have an adverse effect on your well-being?

Yes, according to “How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease,” a 704-page report from the United States Surgeon General’s office. Because tobacco has thousands of addictive chemicals that cause cancer, even a whiff of tobacco can adversely affect the body, the report found.

The following is a time line that illustrates how smoking affects your body.


  • The lining of your nose and esophagus becomes red and irritated from the chemicals and smoke. You may start to cough.
  • The good bacteria in your mouth die, leading to dry mouth and bad breath.
  • The back of your mouth begins to itch.
  • The heat and tar from your cigarette can discolor your teeth, gums and lips. Over time, wrinkles and age spots appear. Quitting protects your skin from premature aging.
  • Puckering to take a drag causes fine lines to form around your lips — a dead giveaway that you smoke, because these don’t normally appear on nonsmokers.

20 minutes

  • Nicotine enters your bloodstream, increasing your pulse and blood pressure.
  • Your sense of smell is reduced.
  • Because nicotine is a stimulant, your brain will release feel-good chemicals or make you want to eat. When you don’t satisfy the urge, you will feel anxious and irritable.

Eight to 48 hours

  • The nicotine and carbon monoxide finally begin to leave your system — but, only if you haven’t smoked since your first puff.
  • The excess mucus created to coat and protect your lungs will begin to drain.
  • Nicotine not only is addictive, but it also impedes your sense of smell and taste. It takes two days for your body to flush the nicotine out and for your senses to return to normal.
  • Hearing loss is a little-known side effect of smoking. When you smoke, the oxygen in your inner ear is depleted.
  • Smoking makes it harder for your blood to circulate, so exercising and other physical activity can leave you winded.

If you’re a nonsmoker, don’t start. If you smoke regularly or just occasionally, find out if you should get screened for lung cancer.

“It is in any individual’s absolute best interest to never smoke or at least quit smoking, if they are current smokers,” says Anthony W. Kim, MD, division chief of thoracic surgery at Keck Medicine of USC and professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “There are hundreds of thousands of people who are literally dying from smoking-related diseases and wish that they had the option again to have never started.”


Heidi Tyline King
Heidi Tyline King is a former magazine editor who has written for numerous national publications.