Adele’s textured, passionate voice is her signature. Fans respond deeply to her rough and emotional music, her first two albums going multi-platinum.
As a fan and a physician specializing in voice issues, I have a concern that the sound we love from Adele may change. Reading an interview with her last week, I came across words that sparked concern in me for her: a description of Adele with “a cigarette dangling from one hand.” I tore into writing about the risk of vocal injury due to smoking and prayed that Adele would not fall victim to them.
Two days later came news that she had cancelled her next performance due to laryngitis; the day after that, her whole tour was cancelled. I do not know what happened to her voice; however, smoking causes laryngitis, increases the likelihood of vocal injury, and often results in permanent damage. I adore Adele’s voice and it’s possible that cigarettes cause the raspy quality that contributes to her voice’s uniqueness. However, in the long run, most singers who smoke find their voices suffer. Smoking and singing make injury more likely and, over time, cause irrevocable deterioration.
The vocal cords are complicated; they are now termed “vocal folds” to emphasize their multi-layered complexity. When this delicate system is exposed to toxins such as cigarettes or air pollution, the tissue becomes swollen. Swollen tissue, placed under the stresses of singing, swells further. When tissue is swollen it is more prone to injury like bleeding or scarring. The chronic swelling of smoking makes singing a game of Russian roulette: will I or won’t I injure myself? Smoking also thickens the vocal folds, lowering the pitch of the voice and potentially eliminating the top notes in a singer’s range. This change is usually irreversible.
Though this article cannot go into all the consequences of smoking on the voice, it is worth it for singers who smoke to learn more. There is nothing worse than seeing a singer who smokes and has an untreatable voice problem saying they wish they’d known. Smoking is so commonplace among singers that perhaps the dangers aren’t truly understood. I hope Adele only has temporary laryngitis caused by the increased vocal demands of touring. Watching someone so young and gifted risk her career, regardless of how addictive cigarettes are, is difficult. I also hope that she and other singers learn about the voice, the effects of smoking and how to prevent voice problems before vocal injuries cut their careers short.