Healthy living

Smoking and surgery

If you smoke, your risks for serious complications during and after surgery will be much higher. People are strongly recommended to stop smoking at least 8 weeks before surgery.

Talk to your doctor, surgeon and pharmacist and keep them informed about your smoking and when you have quit – it may affect your treatment before and after surgery. This includes consulting with them if you wish to use prescription quitting medications or Nicotine Replacement Therapy products to quit.

Pharmacists can provide information on options for Nicotine Replacement Therapy, and advise on products that are suited to your lifestyle and dependence level.

Risks of smoking before surgery

If you continue to smoke right up to the time you have surgery, you will be more likely to:

  • starve your heart of oxygen
  • form blood clots in your veins
  • find it harder to breathe during and after surgery
  • impair the healing of bones, skin and wounds
  • reduce the effect of certain drugs.

Nicotine in cigarette smoke increases your heart rate and blood pressure, making your heart work harder so that it needs more oxygen. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke competes with the oxygen in your blood, making it harder to get the oxygen you need for your heart and body.

Chemicals in cigarette smoke make your blood thicker, stickier and more likely to clot, and can paralyse and destroy the cilia in your lungs (tiny hairs that act like brooms) which work to keep your lungs clear. Smoking increases the amount of mucus in your lungs, and narrows your airways. This can increase the likelihood of your airways, (and the air sacs in your lungs) partially collapsing, making it harder to breathe.

Smoking decreases your resistance to infection, and you will have a higher risk for chest and wound infections after surgery. You are more likely to have longer healing times, problems with new scars opening up, and bad scarring. Smoking can also slow down and interfere with the healing of bones and other body tissues.

Effects smoking can have on anaesthetic

It is important that your anaesthetist is aware of your smoking. You should notify your anaesthetist if you smoke and discuss your options prior to your surgery.

Many surgical procedures require you to have an anaesthetic drug which can put your body under stress and may lower your resistance to infection. If you smoke, your body is less able to cope with the stress this may cause.

Chemicals in cigarette smoke interfere with the rate at which certain drugs break down in your body; as a result, you may need higher doses of anaesthetic or pain relieving medication.

Staying stopped after surgery

After surgery it is important that you do not start smoking again (staying stopped), even if you only quit 12 hours before surgery.

Smoking makes recovery harder by:

  • stressing your heart
  • affecting your blood pressure
  • reducing oxygen in your blood and body tissues
  • damaging your lungs.

By stopping smoking well before surgery you will be more likely to have a faster recovery, better wound healing, a shorter stay in hospital and be less likely to need further surgery.

Where to get help


Quitline is a confidential telephone support service staffed by professional advisors who are trained to provide encouragement and support to help you quit.

Phone: 13 7848 (13 QUIT) (local call rates from land line only). Advisors are available from:
  • Monday to Friday 6am – 7pm
  • Saturday 11.30pm – 2.30pm
  • Sunday closed.


Chronic Disease Prevention Directorate

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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