If you are serious about your singing, smoking is one of the worst things you can do. Besides the cosmetic effects and health risks, smoking can damage a singer's voice and career. While you may feel that smoking helps with performance anxiety, it may damage your vocal cords irrevocably, even if you stop. Singers should never start smoking.
The Importance of Good Vocal Health
Singers should take care of their vocal health and avoid anything that puts strain on their vocal cords or lungs. When the vocal cords are damaged, voice quality and range, especially in the upper register, are affected. Controlling your breathing is also important for singers and any damage to the lungs can weaken your control. Singers are routinely required to hold long notes without taking a breath or to use their diaphragm to add power to a note. Putting strain on the lungs can decrease the ability to do either.
Smoking dries out the vocal cord, often causing irritation and swelling to occur. As a result, the body produces mucus. A person may often have to clear his throat to remove this mucus build-up. During performance, clearing your throat frequently is not practical and is often not possible so the quality of your voice may be impeded through the mucus. Good lung function, which is vital for projecting the voice or controlling the loudness of it, is damaged by smoking.
Smoking contributes to a range of diseases and conditions which can shorten a singer's career or end her life. Vocal polyps, a condition where benign growths develop on the vocal cords, can make a voice raspy, hoarse or cause pain when singing. Laryngitis and bronchitis are also a common side effect of smoking and decrease air flow from the throat and lungs, affecting the voice range. Cancer of the mouth and larynx are also common in smokers, according to Françoise Chagnon, former director of the Voice Lab at the Montreal General Hospital.
Social and Professional Backlash
Smoking is frowned upon by most serious musicians and teachers, especially those involved in classical music. While there seems to be a degree of acceptance in rock or blues music for a harsh, raspy voice, smoking to achieve this is not worth the pay-off. For those who believe a career as a celebrity singer may be imminent, be aware that smoking can be a subject of criticism, especially if you play music that appeals to young people.
Tips to Quit
MayoClinic.com lists a number of tips to help smokers quit. These include setting a date to quit, asking for the support of friends and family, seeing a doctor or smoking cessation specialist and using nicotine replacement products. It is difficult to give up smoking but it is vital for your health and vocal quality.
- Berklee: Winter Health Tips for Vocalists
- NYU Langone Medical Center / School of Medicine: Frequently Asked Questions
- La Scena Musicale: Ask the Throat Doctor
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: Disorders of Vocal Abuse and Misuse
- MayoClinic.com: Quit smoking: Proven strategies to help you quit