A lot is said about how singers shouldn't smoke because smoking ruins their voices.

However, there are certain singers known for being smokers who also have a typical hoarse smoky voice. When I listen to them I can't shake off the feeling that there is a unique quality to their voice and these singers can sing in a way those with healthy voices couldn't. However, the opposite also, intuitively, seems to me to be true: a smoker cannot sing (or speak) in a way non-smokers can, and if a smoker tries to sing (or speak) like that anyway, the effects are often ridiculous or disastrous (this does happen sometimes, with certain singers and voice actors...)

Is it true that smoking can enable someone to get results they wouldn't otherwise be able to achieve? Or does smoking only restrict one's abilities, in the sense that every singer with a healthy, non-smoking voice could, maybe with training, produce the same results as those 'granted' by smoking?

Obligatory disclaimer: I do not smoke, I do not consider starting, I realize that whatever the case smoking is just not worth it and this tiny boon - even if actually real - cannot outweigh the incredible harm caused by smoking.

  • Tangentially related question: Will nicotine gum (e.g., Nicorette) harm my singing voice?.
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 17:25
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    Being a heavy smoker lets you more quickly sing in a choir of real angels. ;)
    – Wyck
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 16:09
  • 2
    @Wyck lets hope it's gonna be angels...
    – Xsmael
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 10:50
  • 1
    @Xsmael That's a choir of vuvuzelas (for the non-smokers) and accordions.
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 14:47
  • 1
    @Xsmael Yes, I understood your answer. I was speaking to that particular, non-angel choir.
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 15:41

9 Answers 9


Smoking affects singing in indirect ways negatively. Smoking reduces the lungs capabilites and CO will reduce the bloods abilities to bind oxygen, which most likely means that smoking will reduce the time you can hold and control your breath. Furthermore the hot, dry smoke will irritate your vocal apparatus and thus increase strain on it, eventually leading to chronic damage.

Smoking does no imminent damage to your voice, but especially if done regularly over a long time, paired with overexertion, this will lead to a faster decline of your voice.

Now, about whether someone with a thusly damaged voice can do things others can’t: Yes and no. You need to keep in mind that the sound you described is not a controlled technique, but an uncontrolled sign of a damaged voice. This will often put even more strain on the voice as regular singing, and will lead to further damage to the voice.

With a healthy voice you could technically also do a lot of this, but you’d need to be very careful not to hurt your voice.


Late edit:
Paul McCartney smokes. At 80, & after his gig at Glastonbury this year, where he's still doing everything in the original key, that rather lends more weight to my argument that smoking alone does not kill off your voice.

[audio only, part 1 of a 2:40 set] If you haven't seen this gig, try hard to find it on a streaming service near you. You will not be disappointed. [Of course, he's not what he was in his 20's, but he's not 20 any more…]

This can only be anecdotal, I've no clue if anyone ever did any real research on it.

As a life-long smoker & pro session vocalist since the start of the 80's, I found it still took me about 20 years to really be able to get a proper 'edge' to my voice, on demand. I couldn't do it when I was young, it was just too 'clean'.

I quit smoking for quite a long while, though later restarted, so I have some small data comparison.
If I don't sing for several months - I'm pretty much retired now so a couple of weeks of karaoke on my Summer holidays is about as much work as I do these days [though as I'm a 'known singer' there I do tend to be up for about a dozen songs a night] - then with smoking it would take me about a week to get back into proper 'performance' mode.
After I'd quit, I could do it in a couple of days & also the top end of my range would come back faster & stronger.

The sound in each case, once back to strength, was almost identical.

  • 1
    By the second paragraph, do you mean to say that it took you a while to get a "smoker's voice" when singing, despite being a smoker? Is that what you mean by edge? Also, do you mean you "quit [smoking] for quite a long while", or do you mean singing, or both?
    – awe lotta
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 17:24
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    @awelotta - 2nd para… quit = stopped smoking [I thought that was a ubiquitous term]. My singing frequency has just trailed off as I got older. I used to sing for a living, almost every day - now I'm retired it can sometimes stretch to 6 months between events, longer since covid. If I do that I have to really work at building back my strength, same as if I did press-ups every day for 40 years then stopped for a year. 'edge' == 'gravelly/rock' voice, intentionally adding overtones. I can now do it at will [or not], but when younger I simply couldn't do it. My sound was too 'clean'.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 17:30
  • I did a whole 'exposé' of this inability when young on Farcebork recently, including examples from the first 'pro' recording I ever made, in 1980 or so, which can still be found on YooToob… but I can't find the damn post cos it was part of a communal group thread… meh :\
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 17:34
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    "Smoking doesn't kill singing voices, singing kills singing voices."
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 16:06
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    @Aaron - yup, agree. There's a point you pass, after which you're 'good forever'… until you stop for 6 months. A friend of mine discovered it after years of 2 one-hour gigs a week, so enough practise, really, to keep that up 'forever'.. He got a gig that was 6 nights, 4 or 5 hours a night. His voice failed him after a week, but came back stronger than ever after three.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 16:09

I don't think anyone would argue against the fact that smoking can change the voice. And that the change could sometimes be artistically attractive.

And I don't think anyone would argue against the fact that it's a ridiculous gamble to make.

  • 7
    The asker already said everything you just said. Xe's wondering if the difference can be emulated by a healthy voice.
    – awe lotta
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 17:21

I will not talk about the dangers of smoking - enough has been said about this. I have heard enough about the fact that there are a lot of great singers and singers who did not part with a cigarette and sounded great! But these examples are rather exceptions that confirm general patterns. And they are:

  • The voice is getting rougher. Not immediately, but gradually the voice will lose its flight and mobility. This is because the resins contained in tobacco smoke settle on the ligaments and clog them. And the smoker burns the ligaments with hot smoke. They won't say "thank you" for that either.
  • The top notes disappear. The reason is still the same.
  • Lung capacity decreases. Well, I haven't discovered America here either.
  • There is an unnecessary wheezing and wheezing. Oh, those resins!
  • The sonority disappears, the voice becomes a little deaf.
  • The voice begins to get tired faster, the vocal endurance decreases.
  • There may be a lack of closure of the ligaments, the voice often fails.
  • The voice begins to sound older and add age to you. Sometimes vocalists start smoking in order to achieve exactly this effect - a rich "texture" in the voice. But now there are a lot of techniques that will help achieve the effect of a rich timbre without smoking.

Changing your throat-affecting habits changes your voice. That's not as much a matter of good or bad as of what happened to end up an expected part of your vocal appeal.

Famed tenor Enrico Caruso was known to be a chain smoker, smoking even being part of his performance preparatory regimen. He also suffered from frequent nodules, throat hemorrhage, and died at age 48 from pleurisy and empyema likely facilitated by his smoking.

Changing habits mid-career may be problematic, so it makes sense to stop entertaining any possibly voice-affecting habits that are not healthily sustainable, even if they appear a viable component of what may be sellable.

  • Bit preachy for me, tbh. Doesn't answer the question, it sidetracks to what you could die of instead.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 5, 2022 at 17:34

Just about everybody's voice changes with age. So it's going to be difficult to establish whether it's age or a lifetime of smoking that's produced any change. The only way to test this would be to have a pair of identical twins, and have one smoke a lot while the other abstains, for many years, then test them. Not a good experiment, so perhaps we'll never know the answer.

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    And even that would be anecdotal. You'd need a few hundred twin pairs Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 14:28
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    "So it's going to be difficult to establish whether it's age or a lifetime of smoking that's produced any change." - Correct me if I'm wrong, but AFAIK the "smoker's voice" is a result of certain definite health conditions such as Reinke's edema. So perhaps it is not necessary to test pairs of identical twins, one "just" needs to test people with and without Reinke's edema
    – gaazkam
    Commented Sep 7, 2022 at 14:08

Yes, you can sing like Bruce Springstein, Sting, Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart by smoking - and without smoking. When my voice broke at 13 I forced my voice to sing oh when the saints like Louis Armstrong. It was easy to sing like him, but it was hard to get back to my natural voice.

  • 1
    Haha! I have a female friend, a good alto, who can also do a really good Louis Armstrong if asked [or when drunk;))
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 13:56

Even if smoking did give you the voice you want, it's rather obviously a stupid and short-sighted way to go.
Get a skilled voice coach and learn all the different ways to produce roughness, vocal fry, tension-filled "strain," and so on without doing any actual damage to your vocal cords.


The smokey voice is associated with scarred and thickened vocal cords.

It is possible to scar and thicken your vocal cords by other methods.

It is possible to sing with a smokey voice even without damaged vocal cords, but the action tends to damage your voice. Most singers want to avoid damaging their voice, and they avoid singing in ways that damage their voice, even though they can do it.

But it's not universal. Some people deliberately continue to yell/sing with a sore throat, in order to develop the scarring and the resultant voice.

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