In the vast majority of people, smoking is the cause of emphysema. Exactly how smoking destroys the air sac linings in the lungs isn't known. However, studies show that smokers are about six times more likely to develop emphysema than nonsmokers.
Estimates vary, but more than 10 million people in the U.S. likely have emphysema or another form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the fourth-leading cause of death in the country.
Interestingly, most heavy smokers do not develop emphysema. Why some smokers get emphysema and others do not is unknown. All heavy smokers experience other negative health effects of smoking, though.
Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD User-generated content areas like communities, reviews, ratings, blogs, or WebMD Answers are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. User-generated content areas are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment. Do not consider WebMD User-generated content as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.