By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Mar 19, 2021
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Is smoking stunting my growth?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 19 Mar. 2021, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/smoking-stunting-my-growth. Accessed 22, Jun. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2021, March 19). Is smoking stunting my growth?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/smoking-stunting-my-growth.

Dear Alice,

I was wondering if the rumor that smoking cigarettes stunts your growth is true? I am a smoker (not proud) but I do believe it may have stunted my growth or at least slowed it down. And if it does, is it permanent? Like, if I stop smoking, will my growth continue to do what it was originally going to do? Any information is helpful. Thank you I love this site.

Dear Reader,  

Unfortunately, there isn't much research available on the influence of smoking cigarettes on growth specifically. The dearth of information may be the result of research and medical ethics that prohibit exposing people to a substance with known health risks (such as cigarettes) to test the effects. As a result, any research is likely to only show a relationship between smoking and growth, but not necessarily prove that smoking is the cause. For example, the available research suggests that children who smoke or who are exposed to secondhand smoke are shorter than those who don’t smoke or are children of non-smokers. Given the ethics at play, these studies likely used existing smoking and growth data to look for patterns, so the ability to draw conclusions is limited. Regardless of the role that smoking plays, if you’re concerned about changes in your growth, you may find it helpful to speak with a health care provider. They may be able to determine some of the causes and whether or not your growth will continue.  

While there’s minimal research testing the effects of smoking on human growth, one study found a connection between the nicotine exposure and delayed skeletal growth. This finding may be best explained by a process called endochondral ossification in which bone replaces cartilage during fetal development. Since nicotine binds to the cells in bones that facilitate this process, it may impede bone growth.  

Another potential explanation for the connection of smoking on growth is rooted in the known effect of smoking on oxygen levels. All forms of smoking (e.g., cigarettes, hookah, e-cigarettes) emit varying amounts of carbon monoxide. Ingesting carbon monoxide deprives cells of oxygen, which is necessary for cell growth and delivering nutrients to organs. Though it’s not tied to smoking cigarettes, a natural case study of a population living in a high-altitude environment (where there’s normally low oxygen) may shed some light. In studying several Himalayan populations living in high altitudes, the researchers discovered that they had shorter limbs and less blood flow.  

In contrast, what researchers have proven is that smoking can do significant damage to other areas of the body, including lung growth, respiratory function, and brain development. Studies have shown that it takes less than five cigarettes a day to impair lung development in teenagers. Teenagers who smoke also experience shortness of breath nearly three times more than those who don't smoke. They also produce twice as much phlegm compared to those who don't smoke. In addition, smoking cigarettes at an early age increases the risk of lung cancer. Further, smoking can impair cognitive development since brains develop up to age 25. The impact of nicotine on the brain at this stage can mean changes to the way mood, attention, and impulses are regulated.  

Smoking isn’t recommended, especially among children and young adults since their brains and bodies are in the process of developing. Starting at a young age creates a greater possibility of ongoing dependence and increases the risk of negative long-term health effects. You mention that you’re “not proud” to be a smoker. If you decide you want to quit, Smokefree.gov and the American Lung Association have helpful resources, tips, and programs for smoking cessation. Your health care provider may also be able to provide some recommendations and support. If you're a student, your college or university's health services may offer cessation support as well, which may include nicotine replacement therapy (e.g., gum, lozenges, etc.). 

Additional Relevant Topics:

Substance Use and Recovery
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