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7 Things That Cause COPD Besides Cigarettes

Despite many misconceptions and stigma, COPD can be caused by a number of things, not just cigarettes.

Seven things, other than cigarettes, that may cause COPD

1. Wood Smoke and Coal.

Wood and coal are both biomass fuels. Many people around the world burn them to produce heat or light. Heat is another byproduct of combustion. But, also produced is smoke. In this smoke are many of the same chemicals and particles in cigarette smoke. These are aerosolized and easily inhaled.

When inhaling this smoke day after day after day, it can damage the lungs. So, studies of women in third world or developing nations show high incidences of COPD. It’s not caused by cigarette smoking in these cases, as they rarely smoke. But, they do spend their days cooking over wood stoves. They also use wood and coal to stay warm.4

Not everyone who cooks over wood stoves will develop COPD. Smoke usually goes up, and people try to avoid it. So, it’s rare that you can develop COPD from campfires and things like that. Researchers believe burning biomass in poorly ventilated areas is what is likely to cause COPD.

2. Cigar and Pipe Smoke.

You may be inhaling less smoke. But, you are indeed inhaling smoke. And, this smoke is formed by combustion of biomass. So, both of these may also cause COPD. We should also include marijuana here. Marijuana is shown to open airways. But, the risks may, in this case, be greater than the benefits. Some studies show that your risk for developing COPD if you smoke marijuana daily is the same as if you inhale tobacco smoke daily.

3. Outdoor Air Pollution.

Yes, you can develop COPD even if not exposed to smoke. Early studies seem to indicate that you can get it by inhaling outdoor air pollution. When this occurs, it is definitely done naturally. You just happen to inhale the polluted air. You do it unknowingly. You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. It’s just there. It’s probably more likely to cause COPD in populated areas. But, this is only a theory. Studies are ongoing to learn more about the impact of outdoor air pollution on COPD. Further studies may prove this theory false too.

4. Indoor Air Pollution.

Say you work in a factory. You are inhaling dusts or fumes every day. The dust contains harmful particles. The fumes contain harmful chemicals. Both may cause changes inside your lungs. Both may cause COPD.

5. Genetics.

There is a particular gene that may cause COPD. It’s called the alpha-1 antitrypsin gene. If you have it, you may develop COPD even if you never smoked.  You can learn more about it by reading, “It’s a Genetic Thing

6. Poor Lung Growth.

Your mom’s environment may contribute to your COPD. So, your mom smokes. Or, maybe your mom doesn’t smoke. Maybe she lives in an urban area and inhales lots of outdoor air pollution. Or, maybe she has a job that requires her to inhale dust or fumes. In either case, this may lead to poor lung growth. This can predispose you to developing COPD later in life. I described this in more detail in my post, What Is The Fetal Origins Hypothesis.

7. The Aging Process.

In this case, it’s called senile emphysema or COPD. It’s when your lungs naturally break down over time. It’s part of the normal aging process. Most people will develop this if they live long enough. Like any disease, it develops at different times and intensities from one person to another. It’s generally not diagnosed until after the age of 70. And it’s usually not considered a disease, but a result of aging. In most people, it’s never significant enough to even be recognized.6

Better understanding for researchers and doctors

It can help researchers better understand this disease. It can help them learn better strategies for treating it. And, ultimately, this may lead to better guidelines to help doctors best treat you. It may even lead to an eventual cure. This is all in an effort to help you breathe easier and live better with COPD.

These are seven things that may contribute to the development of COPD over time. While cigarette smoke is the most likely culprit, there are many other causes as well. Sometimes it’s even diagnosed in people who never smoked. A simple query about your lifestyle and your environment can help doctors learn how you got it.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. GOLD COPD Guidelines,, accessed 2/28/18
  2. “What’s In A Cigarette,” American Lung Association,, accessed 2/28/18
  3. "What Causes COPD," American Lung Association,, accessed/ 3/11/18
  4. Andreas, et al, “Smoking Cessation in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease,” Deutshes Arzteblatt international, April, 2009,, accessed 2/28/18
  5. Tashkin, “Does smoking marijuana increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” 2009 April 14, accessed 2/29/18
  6. Sharma, et al., “Effect of aging on respiratory system physiology and immunology,” Clinical Interventions in Aging, September, 2006,, accessed 2/28/18


  • mollmae
    2 years ago

    I was a smoker and quit in 2002. Never had any trouble with breathing until after 2008. I spent 12 days in the hospital with a serious pneumonia, had 3 chest tubes, developed sepsis and was close to having major organs shut down. I survived, as you can tell. Shortly after the pneumonia, I was dx’d with COPD but given no medication for it. And wasn’t bothered with breathlessness, fatigue, coughing, etc. In early 2017, I did start with a heavy chest and not being able to walk very far but I also have back problems, rheumatoid arthritis, spine problems. I am now on Spiriva Respimat but I still have almost none of the normal COPD symptoms. I’m wondering how much the pneumonia, chest tubes and sepsis was a cause of the COPD. Thank you.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi mollmae and thanks for sharing your story. Although we are unable to provide medical advice or diagnostics over the internet (for your own safety), your post certainly warrants a comment. In the most general of terms, pneumonia, chest tubes and sepsis typically are not responsible for causing COPD. I thought you might find it helpful to look over this article on the risk factors and causes of COPD: It’s good to hear you are managing your COPD with limited symptoms (as you stated) and using Respimat. We wish you the best and look forward to your continued participation in our community.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Barb47
    2 years ago

    I was born and brought up to the age of 23 on a busy main road on a bus route in Birmingham England. From the age of 11 to 16 I traveled to school on 2 buses. I can close my eyes and and still smell and taste the diesel lorries going past me whilst waiting for the bus. I later lived right next to Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham. The net curtains would become black when the windows were open. Then on top of that I started smoking at the age of 14 with a group of friends when we won some cigarettes out of a machine at a fair. We went behind the bushes and smoked them. I guess I didn’t stand a chance but to be diagnosed with COPD in my 40’s I gave up smok8ng immediately on diagnosis. I am now in my 70’s and am severe I try hard to look after myself as best I can.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Barb47 – that’s quite a story you have! What a shock to be diagnosed at such a young age. You definitely did the right thing by quitting smoking when you did. I’m sure you’re correct that the environmental pollutant played a large role in you getting COPD.

    It’s good to hear you still look after yourself the best you can. I’m so happy you found this community – we love having you a part of it.

    Warm Regards,
    Lyn (moderator)

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator author
    2 years ago

    There is some evidence that asbestosis, among other things not listed here, may also contribute to COPD. Very good observation. Space limited me to seven causes in this post, in which I listed the “most common” causes. Or, at least the causes that are the most well known or understood. In a future post, I shall address asbestosis. I’m not sure about pneumonia causing COPD. There are some who think that a severe lung infection may cause COPD. But, I will have to further investigate this to see if it’s something I would want to add to such a list. Let me know if you have access to information I am not yet privy to. At the present time, It’s well established that COPD can make people more prone to developing pneumonia. Little is known about pneumonia’s potential for causing COPD. So, these are just some of my “off the cuff” thoughts on your great comments. Let me know if you have further thoughts. John. Site Moderator.

  • SteveM
    2 years ago

    You forgot to add COPD caused by Asbestos or Agent Orange herbicide used by U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War. Also COPD caused by Pneumonia.

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