Our ancestors have used fire for more than a million years. Wood smoke is not good for the lungs, but our ancestors were depended on fire. Especially in colder regions of the World like in Europe, where people would have been sheltering in closed spaces like caves or tents, the exposure to smoke would have been significant. I've been in Arctic regions and been inside tents used by indigenous people. They use woodstoves inside tents, and while there is a chimney, the concentration of smoke inside is huge. After a while your eyes start to burn.

So, the question is whether after tens of thousands of generations living in such conditions our lungs have evolved to neutralize the damage done by wood smoke to some degree?

  • $\begingroup$ Although I am not aware of any scientific evidence regarding the emergence of more smoke-resistent lungs in humans compared to the past, this can by no means be imputed to the "evolution of lungs". This is not how natural selection works. Rather, hypothetically speaking, nature may have selected humans with particular genetic traits that made their lungs more resistant to smoke, and therefore gave them a survival advantage compared to humans that lacked such trait. $\endgroup$
    – Algae
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 18:09
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I attended a lecture about an adaptation on the aryl-hydrocarbon-receptor gene that's present in all humans but not present in any other extant primates. This receptor senses dioxin (among other things) and triggers a response from the immune system, so they definitely hypothesized a link to our relationship with fire, especially indoor cooking fires. Wish I remembered more about what the actual phenotype of the adaptation was. $\endgroup$
    – MikeyC
    Commented Nov 12, 2021 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ That would be nice, but just reflect on the damage smoking does. Chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, different cancers. How in heaven’s name would we know the answer to this question since other animals are not similarly dragging on cigarettes?? (That’s one thing you can research; animals were in fact forced to smoke. We’re they more or less likely to be injured by smoking?) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse good point, but you have to compare the average human lifespan for most of our existence with the average ages when smoking-related morbidity and mortality become a significant issue. Most of our predecessors likely died from other causes long before the effects of smoke inhalation became a health issue for them. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ From a population lineage point of view, I can understand the hypothesis that multigenerational, repeated, endless exposure to smoke may have affected the gene pool by removing the one extreme end of human variation selectively, one that had hypersensitive lungs or issues with clearance of particulates from the lungs. We think the same for those who couldn't run away quickly enough, or spot or hear danger, or store fat reserves for the winter, so why not for smoke tolerance? Of course, whether it happened to a degree enough to have contributed to changing the gene pool is an open question. $\endgroup$
    – S Pr
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 13:47


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