There are plenty of reasons to quit smoking. Not only can smoking cause cancer and emphysema, but it can also affect your esophagus and cause heartburn and acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Heartburn and acid reflux occur when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle, located at the bottom of your esophagus, weakens or relaxes abnormally allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. The LES works as a valve, opening to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach and closing to keep acid and other particles from flowing back up the esophagus, and this malfunctioning of the LES can cause a burning pain in your chest. The tobacco found in cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chew and snuff can cause and aggravate heartburn and acid reflux symptoms. The nicotine in tobacco products can weaken and relax the LES. Nicotine can also increase acid production in your stomach.

Smoking can also reduce saliva production. When you swallow, saliva helps push acid down the esophagus and into the stomach. Saliva also contains bicarbonate, which is a mild acid neutralizer. Smoking can also slow down your digestion, meaning that it takes longer for your stomach to empty so the LES and esophagus are potentially exposed to stomach contents/acid for a longer time. Finally, smoking promotes the movement of bile salts from the intestine to the stomach, which makes the stomach acids more harmful.

Using tobacco products can also increase your risk for esophageal cancer. Tobacco smoke can irritate the lining of the esophagus making it more susceptible to further damage from acid reflux.