Smoking & COPD

Knowing how the lungs work can help you understand how COPD affects the lungs.

When you breathe in, oxygen-rich air goes down your windpipe and into small tubes located in your lungs. These tubes are called bronchial tubes or airways. They branch off into numerous tinier and thinner tubes known as bronchioles. At the end of the bronchioles are small, round air sacs called alveoli, which have tiny blood vessels called capillaries. When air enters the alveoli, oxygen moves through the capillaries and into the bloodstream. At the same time, carbon dioxide, which is a gas your body doesn’t need, moves into the alveoli so you can breathe it out.


Things that make COPD symptoms worse are called triggers. Knowing what your triggers are and how to avoid them can help you feel better. Smoking is a trigger for many people who have COPD. Smoking can cause an exacerbation, or flare-up, of your symptoms.

You do not have to be a smoker for smoking to cause harm. Exposure to someone else’s smoking (called secondhand smoke) is also a trigger for COPD flare-ups.

Smoking damages your lungs. When you have COPD and smoke, your lungs will get damaged more rapidly than if you were to stop smoking.