We Now Know Exactly How Much Smoking Messes Up Your Lungs

By Christina Warren on at

We already knew smoking was bad for our lungs, but a new study shows exactly how many DNA mutations per cell are caused by sucking on those nicotine sticks. If you’re interested in obsessively quantifying your bad life choices, know that smoking a pack a day will lead to approximately 150 mutations per lung cell each year.

That figure comes to us via a new study led by researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and published in Science. In a first-of-its-kind analysis, the team compared the DNA in tumor tissue from 1,000 non-smokers and 2,500 smokers. From there, they determined how many mutations were linked to to smoking for different bodily tissues.

A handy graphic from Los Alamos breaks it down for us:

We Now Know Exactly How Much Smoking Messes Up Your Lungs
Image: Los Alamos National Laboratory

If you smoke a pack a day for a year, you’re giving yourself approximately 150 mutations per lung cell, 97 per larynx cell, 39 per pharynx cell, six per liver cell, 18 per bladder cell, and 23 per oral cavity cell. Running the math, just for your lungs, for every 49 cigarettes you smoke, you get one new DNA mutation. Think about THAT every time you light up.

So what does this mean? Well, a DNA mutation doesn’t necessarily mean cancer. But it does mean your risks for cancer are greater.

New Scientist explains:

Theoretically, every DNA mutation has the potential to trigger a cascade of genetic damage that causes cells to become cancerous. However, we still don’t know what the probability is of a single smoking-related DNA mutation turning into cancer, or which mutation types are likely to be more malignant.

The team behind this study is now working to determine the probability of smoking-related mutations turning into cancer.

Smoking is bad. So next time you think about lighting up, consider what’s happening to your poor cells. [Science via The New Scientist]