Does Smoking Stunt Growth?

It’s well known that smoking carries a number of long- and short-term health risks. From an increased chance of developing cancer and heart diseases, to diabetes, COPD and rheumatoid arthritis,1 smoking can have a significant impact on your health for years to come.

Another way that smoking can have a profound effect on your body is by stunting your growth. People who smoke regularly from an early age can reduce their long-term height, while babies born to women who smoke can be born prematurely or at below average weight.2

Keep reading to find out more about how smoking can impact your growth and about the other health risks associated with the habit.

Does Smoking Stunt Growth?

There has long been anecdotal evidence that smoking on a regular basis can stunt your growth. Over the years, a number of studies have been carried out to try and establish if the habit can reduce your height in the long term.

Many of these studies have tracked young people over decades to see how smoking has impacted their height. Others have focused on the effects of smoking in pregnancy and how this can reduce the eventual adult height of a child.

One study, carried out in the early 2000s by the University of Montreal and funded by the Canadian Cancer Society, found that boys who smoked 10 cigarettes a day from the ages of 12 – 17 were around an inch shorter than boys who didn’t smoke3. The study was made up of 1,293 Montreal teens, with data collected every three months over a five-year period.

Interestingly, girls who took part in the study didn’t show a reduced height compared to their non-smoking peers. Researchers believe that this is because boys tend to hit puberty later and so are more likely to still be growing when they begin smoking on a regular basis.

Smoking Stunts Lung Capacity

While girls may not see a reduction in their height through regular smoking, their lung capacity can still be stunted by the habit. A study carried out by Harvard’s School of Public Health between 1974 and 19894, showed that girls who smoked five or more cigarettes a day had a 1% slower than usual growth each year of their forced expiratory volume.

Forced expiratory volume is the amount of air that can be blown out of the lungs in one second. It’s an important measure of lung health and can be used to gauge the overall condition of the lungs. While the lung capacity of boys who took part in the study didn’t seem to be as badly affected, smoking still slowed their lung growth by two-tenths of 1% annually.

Can Passive Smoking Stunt Growth?

Not only can smoking on a regular basis stunt your own personal growth, it can also affect the growth of those around you. A 1984 study showed that children whose mothers smoked 10 or more cigarettes a day were, on average, 0.65cm shorter than the children of non-smokers5. The study also showed that children whose mothers smoked between 1 and 9 cigarettes per day were 0.45 cm shorter.

Interestingly, the study suggested that paternal smoking didn’t have a direct influence on a child’s height. This indicates that the reduction in height seen in the children of smoking mothers is the result of smoking during pregnancy, infancy, and preschool.

How Does Smoking Stunt Your Growth?

According to a study published in 2008, cigarette smoking adversely affects endochondral ossification during skeletal growth.6 It’s thought that nicotine is one of the main chemicals responsible for this delayed growth, however, other chemicals found in cigarettes may also contribute to stunted growth in heavy smokers and the children of smokers.

Nicotine can also reduce or restrict growth by curbing a smoker’s appetite.7 It does this by activating a pathway in the brain that suppresses appetite. This can prevent smokers from getting the nutrients they need and have a significant impact on both skeletal growth and muscle formation.

How to Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to overcome the negative health risks of the habit and protect those around you from the harmful effects of cigarettes. Giving up smoking isn’t easy, but the more help and support you can get, the more likely it is that you’ll succeed in giving up cigarettes for good.

The NHS offers a wide range of stopping smoking services and your GP will be able to give you help and advice on the best ways of quitting. This may involve free counselling, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and even certain medications. The methods that you choose will be completely up to you, with different processes working better for different people.

Telling friends and family about your plans, and enlisting their help in your mission to quit, will also help you to succeed. A positive mental attitude, willingness to ask for support and a clear idea of your end goal are also beneficial when it comes to permanently kicking the habit.

According to a number of studies, giving up cigarettes at any age, and after any period of smoking, is beneficial to your health. In fact, as little as two weeks after quitting, you should begin to see improvements in your circulation and your lung function. A year after quitting, your risk of having a heart attack will have halved compared to a smoker’s and, after 10 years without cigarettes, your chances of developing lung cancer will also have dropped by 50%.

To start your smoke-free journey, and learn more about the help and support that’s available, make an appointment with your GP or call the NHS Smokefree helpline.

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