Smoking Effects: Singing a Different Tune

Musicians and vocalists must ensure their most valuable asset is protected. Smoking carries a high risk of nerve damage, throat cancer, and cancer of the esophagus.

vocalist and smoking

The health consequences of tobacco use cannot be denied. Heart disease, stroke, COPD, and lung cancer are all known effects of smoking cigarettes. These risks affect all musicians. Smoking in venues exposes musicians to the dangers of second-hand smoke. This is especially true for singers. Many do not consider how smoking may affect their voices. Cigarette smoke can cause irreversible damage to the lungs and vocal cords, both of which are needed to speak or sing. For anyone, this is an inconvenience. It is necessary to speak clearly on a day to day basis. For those who sing for pleasure or professionally, loss of vocal range can be detrimental.

How Does Smoking Affect Musicians?

For singers, tobacco use can have an impact on the voice in a number of ways, some of which are easier to overcome than others. For other musicians, smoking can harm the nerves they rely on to play their instruments, everyday speech, singing harmony and backup. Smoking and constant exposure to second-hand smoke carries high risks for vocal damage, as well as weakening the ear drums.

Vocal cord irritation: Tobacco smoke irritates and dries the vocal cords, causing them to swell and preventing them from working properly. Over time, this can make the voice sound hoarse or raspy. It used to be assumed that so long as a person didn’t speak or sing while smoking; the vocal cords could avoid damage. This has since been shown to be untrue, as smoke still has to pass over the vocal folds when entering and exiting the esophagus.

Mucus production: As the vocal cords become more irritated, the body will produce excessive mucus to try and heal them. This causes the need to clear one’s throat often – something which cannot be done when performing on stage. Mucus in the throat can lead to reduced voice quality, especially when it can’t be cleared away during a performance. This excess in mucus production maintains its presence in everyday life. This hindrance is the same for all musicians who have succumbed to second-hand smoke exposure, as well.

Lung damage: Singers know that the vocal cords are only part of the story when it comes to voice quality. The lungs and diaphragm are also vital to producing a quality sound. Lung power and proper air control are needed to hit and sustain certain notes, especially in an upper range. Smoking reduces lung function, which can directly affect a singer’s ability to hold, or even hit, certain notes. Becoming winded on stage doesn’t make a very good impression. Aside from Singers, every musician on stage is at risk for lung damage. The constant exposure to second-hand smoke leaves each individual with the same risk for disease and cancers.

Throat cancer: One of the more severe smoking consequences is throat cancer. This can also be caused by chewing tobacco, so smokeless tobacco is not a safer option for singers. Throat cancer can include cancer of the vocal cords. This sometimes results in their removal altogether, resulting in loss of voice function. According to the Mayo Clinic, tobacco use is a major risk factor for throat cancers. For singers and other musicians who do not smoke, repeated appearances at venues that allow smoking exposes them to the same level of risk.

Myths About Smoking and Singing

Many singers who smoke like the fact that smoking allows their voices to retain a deeper or raspier sound than they had originally. While this may be true while speaking, smoking does not lead to a lower singing range. According to Singwise, being able to sing in a lower range is due to the shape of the vocal cords, not whether or not the singer smokes. Furthermore, smoking will reduce singing quality over time.

Avoiding Voice and Lung Damage

The only true way to avoid damage to the vocal cords is to stop smoking entirely. Even exposure to second-hand smoke can cause some damage to the throat and lungs, so discontinuing this exposure altogether is important. For musicians, this may be difficult to achieve. However, many venues are banning smoking from their premises. Musicians can help this endeavor by coming together and speaking out,aiding more venues in becoming smoke-free. For those who do smoke, and are having trouble quitting, there is help available. Prescription medications, nicotine replacement therapies, and electronic cigarettes are all tools which may help singers kick the habit before irreparable damage is done.

For more motivation to quit smoking once and for all, visit The Real Cost of Smoking.

Read more about the effects cigarette smoke has on the human body at The Effects of Smoking.

There are many ways to immediately reduce the harm of cigarette smoke. Read more about smoking cessation methods here and here.

Learn more about smoking:

Nicotine Dependence and Freedom

• How to Inspire a Smoker to Quit

• Secondhand Smoke: Think Twice

Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey